The public needs both gavel and pen

The public needs both gavel and pen

The public needs both gavel and pen

SIDARTH VARDRAJAN IN THE HINDU

The Supreme Court’s proposal to impose guidelines on how to report cases will be harmful to press freedom and democracy, the bedrock of which is an informed public.

The Judiciary is the third branch of government. As with the Executive and Legislature, the public has a right to see and know and understand the functioning of this branch. That is why India, like every other democracy, has embraced the concept of open court proceedings and trials, except in those situations where, for security or other compelling reasons, in camera hearings are required.

In the Mirajkar case (Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar And Ors vs State Of Maharashtra And Anr on 3 March, 1966) a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court under its legendary Chief Justice, P.B. Gajendragadkar, held that “save in exceptional cases, the proceedings of a Court of justice should be open to the public”.

“A Court of justice is a public forum”, the 1966 judgment declares. “It is through publicity that the citizens are convinced that the Court renders evenhanded justice, and it is, therefore, necessary that the trial should be open to the public and there should be no restraint on the publication of the report of the Court proceedings. The publicity generates public confidence in the administration of justice. In rare and exceptional cases only, the Court may hold the trial behind closed doors, or may forbid the publication of the report of its proceedings during the pendency of the litigation.” (emphasis added)

Unrestricted openness

Once the objective of a public trial in open court is accepted, it is obvious that this openness cannot be restricted to those members of the public who have the facility and inclination to be present in a given court at a given time; rather, the reference is to the wider public, to the citizenry as a whole. The only way court proceedings, and the wider functioning of the judicial system, can be subject to public scrutiny is if the media — who are the people’s eyes and ears — have the freedom to both be present in open court and to give an account of what transpires in open court.

It is thanks to contemporary newspaper reports of the day-to-day hearings in landmark cases like Kesavanada Bharati (1973) (certainly in The Hindu, and perhaps elsewhere too) that the public then — and legal scholars now — have an accurate picture of all the intricacies involved, including the oral arguments made and questions raised by the Bench. Many more such examples can be cited.

To be sure, covering the courts requires skill, competence and some domain knowledge of the law, in much the same way that coverage of foreign policy, defence, business and finance, and even politics requires reporters knowledgeable about those subjects. The Supreme Court has seen fit to specify that accredited correspondents must possess a law degree; it has also quantified the amount of reporting experience, at different levels of the judiciary, that these correspondents must have. No other branch of government or public or private institution — not the armed forces or Defence Ministry, not the Ministry of External Affairs, the Police, the Ministry of Agriculture or Health — has insisted on a degree or professional qualification as a condition for accreditation. Nor to my knowledge is a law degree a requirement to get accreditation as a correspondent to the Supreme Courts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, etc. I raise this point here not to challenge the Supreme Court of India‘s system of media accreditation, but merely to note that having raised the bar for entry, imposing further restrictions in the form of guidelines on these correspondents — all of whom have been allowed in precisely because of their knowledge of, and sensitivity towards, the functioning of the Court — seems especially superfluous.

No doubt the most experienced and knowledgeable reporter can make a mistake on a particular matter. These mistakes can be harmless, hurting only the reputation of the concerned journalist or media house. But there can be mistakes which have consequences for the reputations of the parties to a case and their counsel, or to the Bench and Court. If an error by a reporter has adverse consequences for the reputation or standing of the Court or plaintiffs, remedies exist under existing statute and court procedures and it is up to the Bench or the affected parties to invoke those remedies. If a factual mistake has been made, or wrong information conveyed, no media house can claim immunity, on the basis of press freedom, from the ordinary process of law. If the error is innocent, and the Court is convinced this is so, the matter might rest with a simple apology; if, on the other hand, mala fide is suspected, the Court is empowered to take punitive action.

Given these remedies, none of which are necessarily inconsistent with constitutionally guaranteed press freedoms, it would seem unnecessary to impose a regime of “prior restraint” or even “temporary postponement” via guidelines on what aspects of court proceedings may be reported. Indeed, such a regime would have a chilling effect on media coverage of the Supreme Court and, eventually, the entire judiciary, at great cost to the general interest of society.

It is true that the Law Commission has recommended ‘postponement’ of reportage citing jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada, where jury trials are sought to be insulated from public opinion. But in India, there is no trial by jury; and surely the judicial independence of judges — and their vulnerability to what appears in the media — cannot be the same as that of the average citizen-juror.

Of course, it is a matter of concern that sections of the print and visual media sometimes report police accounts of crimes without the necessary qualifiers demonstrating that the truth of the matter is not known. Worse still, these accounts are often attributed not to named officers but to ‘anonymous’ police sources. An individual may thus stand “convicted” in the eyes of the public without any recourse to corrective measures. The bald reporting of a petitioner’s claims or accusations can also mislead the public if presented as fact. These are real problems that require remedying. However, a true reading of Article 19 of the Constitution requires that the press regulate itself in this regard and strive, as a collective, for the highest ethical standards. Given the public’s growing disenchantment with the media in the wake of various scandals, it is also in the media’s interest to heal itself. This is a subject journalists are pursuing at multiple levels within the print media and there is also the oversight of the Press Council of India, which, under the chairmanship of Justice Markandey Katju, has re-energised itself. Imposing further judicial restrictions on democratic access to information concerning Supreme Court proceedings would amount to overkill.

Undermines people’s right

My apprehension is that if the Supreme Court, which sits at the apex of the third branch of government, were to insist that reporters covering it abide by guidelines that the Court itself lays down, this would open the door to the other branches of government — that too, at all levels — making similar demands on the media as a precondition to gaining access to Parliament and Legislatures, Ministries, public institutions, hospitals, universities, etc. The natural instinct of most politicians and bureaucrats is to hide or suppress information on one pretext or another. The adoption of media guidelines by the Supreme Court would embolden them, further undermining the public’s right to be informed. Recently, for example, a Karnataka Assembly committee tasked with investigating the scandal involving Ministers caught on camera watching pornographic material sought to blame the media for recording what the Ministers were doing. Shouldn’t you be focusing just on the official Assembly proceedings, journalists were asked.

Courts in open societies elsewhere, particularly in North America, may have had occasion to be upset with media coverage of cases but they have not sought to frame guidelines of the sort being envisaged by the Supreme Court of India. The only etiquette rules courts in the United States seem to focus on are the circumstances under which journalists may use recording devices and cameras. Today, the debate on this issue in the United States is focused on whether journalists should be allowed to carry mobile devices into the Supreme Court so that they can “tweet” live from inside without having to come outside the courtroom. The court forbids this. At issue, however, is not the right of the journalist to provide near-live coverage of a hearing, should she so desire but only whether she can use the communication technology on court premises.

Of course, journalists and editors should be honest in accepting that the reason the Supreme Court — and the government — want to step in is because the media act as if they are not accountable to anyone. Aggrieved citizens have no forum they can approach for an effective and swift remedy in the event of being injured by misreporting. Unless newspapers and television stations get serious about self-regulation, the pressure of external regulation will always remain.

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SC EXPLANATION OF LIVE IN RELATIONSHIPS WITH REFERENCE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT

The Supreme Court in D Veluswamy Vs D Patchaiammal has explained the definition of Live In Relationships with reference to Domestic Violence Act. The Court in its judgement in the mentioned ruled:

 

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

16.   However, the question has also be to be examined from the point of view of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Section 2(a) of the Act states :

“2(a) “aggrieved person” means any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent”;

Section 2(f) states :

“2(f) “domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are  related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family”;

Section 2(s) states :

“2(s) “shared household” means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.”

Section 3(a) states that an act will constitute domestic violence in case it-

“3(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse;” or (emphasis supplied)

17.   The expression “economic abuse” has been defined to include :

“(a) deprivation of all or any economic or financial   resources to which the aggrieved person is entitled under any law or custom whether payable under an  order of a court or otherwise or which the aggrieved person requires out of necessity including, but not  limited to, household necessities for the aggrieved   person and her children, if any, stridhan, property,  jointly or separately owned by the aggrieved person,   payment of rental related to the shared household and maintenance”.

(emphasis supplied)

18.   An aggrieved person under the Act can approach the Magistrate under Section 12 for the relief mentioned in Section 12(2). Under Section 20(1)(d) the Magistrate can grant maintenance while disposing of the application under Section 12(1).

19.   Section 26(1) provides that the relief mentioned in Section 20 may also be sought in any legal proceeding, before a civil court, family court or a criminal court.

20.   Having noted the relevant provisions in The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, we may point out that the expression `domestic relationship’ includes not only the relationship of marriage but also a relationship `in the nature of marriage’. The question, therefore, arises as to what is the meaning of the expression `a relationship in the nature of marriage’. Unfortunately this expression has not been defined in the Act. Since there is no direct decision of this Court on the interpretation of this expression we think it necessary to interpret it because a large number of cases will be coming up before the Courts in our country on this point, and hence an authoritative decision is required.

21.   In our opinion Parliament by the aforesaid Act has drawn a distinction between the relationship of marriage and a relationship in the nature of marriage, and has provided that in either case the person who enters into either relationship is entitled to the benefit of the Act.

22.   It seems to us that in the aforesaid Act of 2005 Parliament has taken notice of a new social phenomenon which has emerged in our country known as live-in relationship. This new relationship is still rare in our country, and is sometimes found in big urban cities in India, but it is very common in North America and Europe. It has been commented upon by this Court in S. Khushboo vs. Kanniammal & Anr. (2010) 5 SCC 600 (vide

para 31).

23.   When a wife is deserted, in most countries the law provides for maintenance to her by her husband, which is called alimony. However, earlier there was no law providing for maintenance to a woman who was having a live-in relationship with a man without being married to him and was then deserted by him.

24.   In USA the expression `palimony‘ was coined which means grant of maintenance to a woman who has lived for a substantial period of time with a man without marrying him, and is then deserted by him (see `palimony’ on Google). The first decision on palimony was the well known decision of the California Superior Court in Marvin vs. Marvin (1976) 18 C3d660. This case related to the famous film actor Lee Marvin, with whom a lady Michelle lived for many years without marrying him, and was then deserted by him and she claimed palimony. Subsequently in many decisions of the Courts in USA, the concept of palimony has been considered and developed. The US Supreme Court has not given any decision on whether there is a legal right to palimony, but there are several decisions of the Courts in various States in USA. These Courts in USA have taken divergent views, some granting palimony, some denying it altogether, and some granting it on certain conditions. Hence in USA the law is still in a state of evolution on the right to palimony.

25.   Although there is no statutory basis for grant of palimony in USA, the Courts there which have granted it have granted it on a contractual basis. Some Courts in USA have held that there must be a written or oral agreement between the man and woman that if they separate the man will give palimony to the woman, while other Courts have held that if a man and woman have lived together for a substantially long period without getting married there would be deemed to be an implied or constructive contract that palimony will be given on their separation.

26.    In Taylor vs. Fields (1986) 224 Cal. Rpr. 186 the facts were that the plaintiff Taylor had a relationship with a married man Leo. After Leo died Taylor sued his widow alleging breach of an implied agreement to take care of Taylor financially and she claimed maintenance from the estate of Leo. The Court of Appeals in California held that the relationship alleged by Taylor was nothing more than that of a married man and his mistress. It was held that the alleged contract rested on meretricious consideration and hence was invalid and unenforceable. The Court of Appeals relied on the fact that Taylor did not live together with Leo but only occasionally spent weekends with him.   There was no sign of a stable and significant cohabitation between the two.

27.   However, the New Jersey Supreme Court in Devaney vs. L’Esperance 195 N.J., 247 (2008) held that cohabitation is not necessary to claim palimony, rather “it is the promise to support, expressed or implied, coupled with a marital type relationship, that are indispensable elements to support a valid claim for palimony”. A law has now been passed in 2010 by the State legislature of New Jersey that there must be a written agreement between the parties to claim palimony.

28.   Thus, there are widely divergent views of the Courts in U.S.A. regarding the right to palimony. Some States like Georgia and Tennessee expressly refuse to recognize palimony agreements.

29.   Written palimony contracts are rare, but some US Courts have found implied contracts when a woman has given up her career, has managed the household, and assisted a man in his business for a lengthy period of time. Even when there is no explicit written or oral contract some US Courts have held that the action of the parties make it appear that a constructive or implied contract for grant of palimony existed.

 

LIVE IN JUDGEMENT

LIVE IN JUDGEMENT

30.   However, a meretricious contract exclusively for sexual service is held in all US Courts as invalid and unenforceable.

31.   In the case before us we are not called upon to decide whether in our country there can be a valid claim for palimony on the basis of a contract, express or implied, written or oral, since no such case was set up by the respondent in her petition under Section 125 Cr.P.C.

32.   Some countries in the world recognize common law marriages. A common law marriage, sometimes called de facto marriage, or informal marriage is recognized in some countries as a marriage though no legally recognized marriage ceremony is performed or civil marriage contract is entered into or the marriage registered in a civil registry (see details on Google).

33.   In our opinion a `relationship in the nature of marriage’ is akin to a common law marriage. Common law marriages require that although not being formally married :-

(a)      The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses.

(b)     They must be of legal age to marry.

(c)      They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal  marriage, including being unmarried.

(d)     They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.

(see `Common Law Marriage’ in Wikipedia on Google)

In our opinion a `relationship in the nature of marriage’ under the 2005 Act must also fulfill the above requirements, and in addition the parties must have lived together in a `shared household’ as defined in Section 2(s) of the Act. Merely spending weekends together or a one night stand would not make it a `domestic relationship’.

34.   In our opinion not all live in relationships will amount to a

relationship in the nature of marriag8e to get the benefit of the Act of 2005.

To get such benefit the conditions mentioned by us above must be satisfied, and this has to be proved by evidence. If a man has a `keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage’

35. No doubt the view we are taking would exclude many women who have had a live in relationship from the benefit of the 2005 Act, but then it is not for this Court to legislate or amend the law. Parliament has used the expression `relationship in the nature of marriage’ and not `live in relationship’.   The Court in the grab of interpretation cannot change the language of the statute.

36. In feudal society sexual relationship between man and woman outside marriage was totally taboo and regarded with disgust and horror, as depicted in Leo Tolstoy’s novel `Anna Karenina’, Gustave Flaubert’s novel `Madame Bovary’ and the novels of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

37.   However, Indian society is changing, and this change has been reflected and recognized by Parliament by enacting The Protection of   Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

THE SC JUDGEMENT

SC JUDGEMENT ON LIVE IN RIGHTS