NEW DELHI: With the adoption of virtual hearings and live telecasting of the proceedings, the Supreme Court has asked the courts particularly the constitutional courts to remain extremely cautious in making adverse remarks against the parties as those may cause great harm to their reputation.
A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah expunged adverse remarks made by the Karnataka High Court against senior IPS officer Seemant Kumar Singh, then Additional Director General of Police, Anti Corruption Bureau and IAS officer J Manjunath, then district collector of Bengaluru in a bail plea by an accused in a corruption case.
The bench pointed out legal system in general, and the judicial system in particular, has ushered into a new age of accessibility and transparency due to the adoption of virtual hearings and live telecasting of open court proceedings.
"These changes in the judiciary have ensured that the courts as redressal mechanisms have become more accessible to the common man than ever
before. The limitations of physical infrastructure, that has constrained the courts to a physical location, has often been cited as one of the main roadblocks in the path towards access to justice. This roadblock, however, has now been cleared due to the availability of technology and the adoption
of the same. This never before seen transparency in the judicial system, while it brings with it great benefits, it also attaches with it a stricter standard of responsibility on judges while conducting such court proceedings. Remarks passed in court, due to the live broadcasting of court proceedings,
now have ramifications that are far reaching, and as can be seen in the
present case, can cause great injury to the reputation of the parties involved," the bench said.
"In such a circumstance, it is essential for the courts to be extremely cautious while passing adverse remarks against the parties involved, and must do so
with proper justification, in the right forum, and only if it is necessary to
meet the ends of justice," the bench added.
The court quashed an interim order passed by the Karnataka High Court on July 7, 2022 by its judgement after hearing senior advocates Ranjit Kumar and Amit Kumar and advocate Sanjay M Nuli and Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj on appeals filed by the officers as well as the Karnataka government.
"We are of the opinion that the
actions of the High Court during the bail proceedings of a third party are
manifestly arbitrary and unjust, and the High Court must have confined itself to the issues relevant to it for the purposes of deciding the bail," the bench said.
The court declared that the remarks made by the High Court "seem to be unreasonable and without justification".
Relying upon the principle of burden of caution on the courts, the bench said, "When the evidence is not fully analysed, and a presumption of innocence is still operational in favour of the accused, the courts must then be extremely cautious in passing adverse remarks against the accused. This becomes especially important in cases where the party against whom the remarks are passed do not have a lis in the said
proceedings, for such comments, especially if passed by constitutional courts, can cause great injury to the reputation of the parties at the receiving end of
So far as Singh was concerned, the top court noted he is merely a government employee of the department that is conducting the investigation and has no personal involvement with the case.
"The appellant no 2 (Singh) is not an accused and has nothing to do with the transaction of the crime, let alone the bail proceedings. No evidence against him has been analysed by the court and no opportunity has been given to him to explain himself, however,
scathing and egregious remarks have still been passed against him. In such a scenario, we find the remarks passed by the High Court to be unfair and not in the interest of justice," the bench said.
With regard to Manjunath, the court said even though he is an
accused in the alleged crime, however, what must not be forgotten is the fact that he does not have any lis in the bail proceedings of accused police officer in a corruption case.
"In such a scenario, where appellant no 3 was not party to the ongoing bail proceedings, we find it to be extremely unreasonable for the High Court to pass such adverse remarks against him," the bench said.
"When no allegations were made against appellant no 3, and the presumption of innocence is still functional in his favour, we find it to
be a gross abuse of the process of law to pass such adverse remarks against him, as such remarks do not just cause injury to his reputation, but also has the potential to cause great prejudice to his actual trial," the bench added.
The bench also pointed out a court of bail, especially in cases where the bail is sought for by a third party, is not a court that has all the relevant information to pass
an order on the merits of an unconnected party, and such an order, if passed, has the potential to cause great harm to the said party without them being afforded an actual and meaningful opportunity to defend themselves.
"It is a well settled principle of law that any party, when being accused of an illegal act, must be given an opportunity be fairly heard," the bench added.