'It will be a retrograde act': SC dismisses EC's plea to restrain media from reporting oral observations

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed Election Commission's plea to restrain media from reporting observations of judicial proceedings, saying it will be a "retrograde" act.

The apex court also refused to expunge critical remarks of the Madras High Court holding the poll panel responsible for the surge in COVID-19 cases in the country.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, however, acknowledged that the high court's remarks were "harsh", but did not expunge them saying they do not form part of the judicial order.

Media has right to cover court proceedings, the bench said, adding, "Off the cuff remarks are susceptible for misinterpretation".

The top court lauded High Courts for commendable work done during COVID-19 and said they are effectively supervising pandemic management.

The bench, also comprising justice M R Shah, said the media cannot be restrained from reporting observations made during the course of hearings.

"It will be retrograde to restrain HCs from making observations or gagging media from reporting observations," it said.

"Freedom of speech and expression extends to reporting proceedings in judicial institutions as well. The Courts' works have direct impact on the rights of citizens and also to the extent citizens can exact accountability from institution", the Court held, reported Live Law.

Courts have to remain alive to evolving technology of media, it is not good, if it is restrained from reporting judicial proceedings, the bench said.

"With the advent of technology, real-time updates of hearing are given. This constitutes a virtual extension of the open court. This is not a cause of apprehension but a celebration of our constitutional ethos which bolsters the judiciary", Justice Chandrachud said while reading out the judgment, reported Live Law.

The verdict came on an appeal of the poll panel against the Madras High Court's observation.

The Madras High Court had on April 26 castigated the EC for the surge in COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic, holding it "singularly" responsible for the spread of the viral disease, called it the "the most irresponsible institution" and even said its officials may be booked under murder charges.

(With inputs from PTI)

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