Pegasus case: SC tells petitioners to have faith in system, avoid ‘parallel debates’

The court told the petitioners that they should have faith in the system, and should try to avoid parallel debates while the matter was sub judice.

The Pegasus tool is one of the NSO Group’s mainstay product.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned hearing on petitions seeking a probe into allegations of unauthorised surveillance using the Pegasus software until August 16, after counsel for the government sought time to take instructions.

The court told the petitioners that they should have faith in the system, and should try to avoid parallel debates while the matter was sub judice.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana, heading the expanded three-judge Bench also comprising Justices Vineet Saran and Surya Kant, told counsel appearing for the petitioners: “This is from me and my two learned brothers. Whatever be the people who are interested in the matter if you want to say something in social media, Twitter, Facebook, newspapers etc, it is for them.

“But once you come to this court, we expect the debate is taking place and we expect that they will answer the questions, the queries that we put to them through a proper debate within the court and not outside.”

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He added: “They (petitioners) are all represented through counsel and they will answer. Please have some faith in the system. Whatever you want to say, please file affidavits and we assure you we will go through that and the contents. But instead of having a parallel debate, not that we are against such debates, but to have parallel proceedings when we are seized of the issue and we are looking into it…”

To Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal who appeared for veteran journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, the CJI said: “You are not only a senior counsel but we respect you a lot. You have been a minister also. There must be some discipline. We ask some questions from all of you… Sometimes it will be inconvenient, but both sides have to face this music. We expect answers… This is the process. This is all we want to request you.”

Sibal replied that he agreed that “when the matter is in court, there should be no public statements of any nature.”

He then drew the court’s attention to the hearing of August 5, when the CJI had posed a question about the observations of a court in California in a suit filed by Whatsapp against the NSO Group, the Israeli cyber surveillance company that has manufactured the Pegasus spyware, which was allegedly used the infiltrate 1,400 mobile devices in 2019.

Those observations, Sibal said, had led to “mud being thrown” at Ram for allegedly making false claims in his petition that the California court had named Indian journalists who were targeted using Pegasus.

The CJI responded: “This is the problem. That is taking the sentence out of context.” He said he had doubts whether he had posed the query, as he had doubts whether he had read the petition correctly.

“This is not correct. You should not cross the limits for anybody. We are following the procedure and system, they must have faith in the system,” the CJI said.

On August 5, the court had asked the parties to give copies of their petitions to the government counsel, and had made it clear that it would take a call on the prayer for issuing notice only after hearing the Centre.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said on Tuesday that he had received the copies, and sought two more days to take instructions from the government. He requested the court to take up the matter on Friday.

The CJI, however, said that day was personally inconvenient for him, and fixed the matter for hearing on August 16.

Senior Advocate C U Singh appearing for the Editors’ Guild of India, urged the court to issue notice, but the court said it “will take a call on Monday”.

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