28 July 2020

Police authorities are not the adjudicators of guilt or innocence of any person

A person cannot be denuded of his or her dignity merely because he/she is an accused or is under trial.

A media campaign to pronounce a person guilty would certainly destroy the presumption of innocence.

    It is also necessary to bear in mind that human dignity is recognized as a constitutional value and a right to maintain one's reputation is a facet of human dignity. A person cannot be denuded of his or her dignity merely because he/she is an accused or is under trial.
[Para No.24]

Police authorities are not the adjudicators of guilt or innocence of any person
   The police or any other agency cannot use media to influence public opinion to accept that the accused is guilty of an alleged offence while the matter is still being investigated. The same is not only likely to subvert the fairness of the investigation but would also have the propensity to destroy or weaken the presumption of innocence, which must be maintained in favour of the accused till he/she is found guilty after a fair trial.
[Para No45.]

   It is also well settled that the right to receive information is one of the essential the facets of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The right to freedom of speech and expression also encompasses the right to information. However, this right is not absolute and may be curtailed if it interferes with the administration of justice and the right of an accused to a fair trial.[Para No.46]

   The question whether media reporting or disclosing of information by the investigation agency has the propensity to prejudicially affect fair trial would depend on the facts of each case.[Para No.47]

   Selective disclosure of information calculated to sway the public opinion to believe that an accused is guilty of the alleged offence; to use electronic or other media to run a campaign to besmirch the reputation or credibility of the person concerned; and to make questionable claims of solving cases and apprehending the guilty while the investigations are at a nascent stage, would clearly be impermissible. This is not only because such actions may prejudicially affect a fair trial but also because it may, in some cases, have the effect of stripping the person involved of his/her dignity or subjecting him/or her to avoidable ignominy. It is trite that "the right to live includes the right to live with human dignity" (see: Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi: AIR 1981 SCC 746). In Sukhwant Singh v. State of Punjab:2009 (7) SCC 559 the Supreme Court reiterated that "the reputation of a person is his valuable asset, and is a facet of his right under Article 21 of the Constitution". Human Dignity is a constitutional value and any action that unnecessarily denudes a person of his dignity would have a debilitating effect on the rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India.[Para No.50]

   Although, it is correct that the petitioner has been effectively declared to be guilty of the said conspiracy, however, the press release must be read in its context - a chargesheet containing the said allegation in being filed in Court. This is indicated in the opening paragraphs of the impugned note. The police authorities are not the adjudicators of guilt or innocence of any person. And, clearly, the police cannot pronounce on the guilt or innocence of any person. Thus, what is reported is their inference from the investigations, which is articulated in the report (the charge sheet) filed before the concerned court.[Para No.62]

    The contention that it was necessary for the police authority to name the petitioner in view of the campaign being run on social media is not persuasive. Clearly, it is not necessary to name the accused in media reports. However, the question before this Court is limited to examining whether such disclosure violates the right of the petitioner under Article 21 of the Constitution of India or offends any law. This Court is unable to accept that the said police communication violates the fundamental rights of the petitioner or provisions of any law. The question whether the respondent is eventually able to establish their allegations beyond any reasonable doubt is a matter for the Trial Court to consider after a due trial. As noticed above, the contention that the respondent felt necessary to defend its position that they were not persecuting the petitioner but had proceeded against her on the basis of the investigation carried out, is also not a matter on which this Court requires to express any opinion. The reasons that prompted the respondent to issue the impugned note are not subject to judicial review provided they are bonafide and do not violate the petitioner's right.[Para No.63]

Delhi High Court

Devangana Kalita
Delhi Police

Decided on 27/07/2020

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