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Media Trial In Context To Jessica Lal Murder Case

Media has wide ranging roles in the society. Freedom of media is the freedom of people, as they should informed related to any public matters. Today's media is playing an outstanding role in creating and shaping the public opinion and strengthening of society. In a democratic set up there has to be an active participation of people in all affairs fromdifferent communities and states.

Media has now reincarnated itself into a 'public court' (Janta Adalat) and has started interfering into court proceedings. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and convict keeping at stake the golden principles of 'presumption of innocence until proven guilty' and 'guilt beyond reasonable doubt'.

When justice, equality and freedom are seized away from the public, media communicates for them. When the Jessica Lal murder case, in Delhi stirred a huge wave of mass protest then the support of media was literally and precisely a representation of the public opinion, exhibited against the governing system and the powerful and capable people.

Also, it appeared that the cartridge used in the murder was altered. The gun was never recovered; the cartridges were for some reason sent for forensic evaluation, turned out that they had been fired from different weapons. This led to a further weakening of the prosecution case.

India witnessed the most shameful judgment ever in February 2006, when the culprit, Manu Sharma, son of Vinod Sharma, a cabinet minister then, was acquitted by the lower courts, with theexplanation of fail in the submission of proper witnesses and evidences. After the judgement media came into picture.

The case finally received its deserved judgment from the Supreme Court on April 2010. Manu Sharma was sentenced to life time imprisonment which was the key result of the attempts of the country's whole media clan which stood upholding the truth of Jessica's family who brought out to the senses of the public and the judiciary. After the verdict many experts pointed fingers at the flaws in the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, especially under sections 25-27.

No confession made by any person whilst when he/she is in the custody of a police officer, unless it is made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate, shall be proved as against such person. Though, the clauses were initially added for the protection of the defendants from giving confession under police torture, it was later exploited by many a guilty defendant as well, as in this case, where many a witness withdrew their testimony, after giving it to the policeduring interrogation. After an immense uproar, hundreds of thousands e- mails, SMS & petitions were forwarded by media channels and newspapers to the President and other seeking remedies for the alleged miscarriage of justice.

Media is considered democracy as a one of the pillars of Indian Democracy. Trial is a word which deals with process of justice. It is the important and essential component of judicial system that accused should receive a fair trial. Media have interpreted by itself in to a public court and was started interfering in to court proceedings. Now, what we observe in Media trial is where the media does a separate investigation; creates a public opinion against accused even before court takes cognizance of the case.

Philosophical Aspect
With the support of article 19 people has right to freedom of speech and expression. It is their right to inform thepresent political economic and cultural life.

The media in the present age holds tremendous power. From shaping public opinion, to echoing people's sentiments,or even mobilizing the masses, the media seemingly has the magic wand. Being the watchdog of society, it is the role of the media to ensure that justice is served whenever the rich and powerful abuse the rights of the poor.

In doing so, the accused may have to bear a "trial by the media". Here the media coverage shapes widespread perception of the guilt or innocence of the accused, before or even after a verdict in the court of law. The media steps out of itsconventional role of being neutral and takes to judging the accused. Trial by media appears to be a double-edgedsword.

After the media stepped in though, the case was re-tried and Manu Sharma was sentenced to life imprisonment. Some famous criminal cases that would have gone unpunished by the intervention of media are:
  1. Priyadarshini Mattoo Case
  2. Jessica Lal Case
  3. Nitish Katara murder Case

Relation Of Media Trial With Respect To Article 19
Article 19(1) (a) of The Indian Constitution, which gives freedom of speech and expression includes within itsambit, freedom of press. The existence of a free, independent and powerful media is the cornerstone of ademocracy, especially of a highly mixed society like India.

The criminal justice system in this country has many lacunae which are used by the rich and powerful to go scot-free.Figures speak themselves that the conviction rate in our country is abysmally low at 4 percent. In such circumstances the media plays a crucial role in not only mobilising public opinion but bringing to light injustices which most likely would have gone unnoticed otherwise.

In Romesh Thappar v State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 124), the Supreme Court of India held that the freedom of speech and expression includes freedom to propagate ideas which is ensured by freedom of circulation of apublication, as publication is of little value without circulation. Patanjali Sastri, J., rightly observed that-

'Freedom of Speech and of Press laid the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free politicaldiscussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of Government, is possible'

However, Article 19(2) of the Constitution provides that this right is not absolute and 'reasonable restrictions' may be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. However, the right it freedom and speech andexpression does not embrace the freedom to commit contempt of court. The current scenario is that freedom of press is not absolute. It can be restricted provided three distinct and independent prerequisites are satisfied.
  1. The restriction imposed must have the authority of law to support it. Freedom of the press cannot be curtailed byexecutive orders or administrative instructions which lack the sanction of law.
    The new article was as follows:
  2. "Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (i) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the state frommaking any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the rights conferred by the said sub clause in the interest of the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence"
  3. The law must fall squarely within one or more heads of restrictions specified in Art 19(2). Restrictions on freedom of speech and expression cannot be imposed on such omnibus grounds as 'in the interest of the general public
  4. The restrictions must be reasonable and must not be excessive. The validity of restrictions imposed is justifiableand open for judicial review by the Indian courts.

Liberty has got to be limited in order to be affectively possessed. For liberty of one must not offend the liberty of others.

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to express one's views and opinions on any issue and throughany medium whether it is in writing or by word of mouth. The phrase "speech and expression" used in Article 19(1) (a) has a broad connotation. This right includes the right to communicate, print and advertise the information. In India, freedom of the press is implied from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a).

The freedom of the press is regarded as a "species of which freedom of expression is a genus". On the issue of whether 'advertising' would fall under the scope of the Article, the Supreme Court pointed out thatthe right of a citizen to exhibit films is a part of the fundamental right of speech and expression guaranteed byArticle 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Indian law does not expressly refer to commercial and artistic speech.

However, Indian Law is developing and the Supreme Court has ruled that 'commercial speech' cannot be denied the protection of Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. The Court has held that 'commercial speech' is a part of the 'right of freedom of speech and expression' as guaranteed by our Constitution.

The citizens of India have the right to receive 'commercial speech' and they also have the right to read and listen to the same. This protection is availableto the speaker as well as the recipient. Freedom of Speech and Expression also includes artistic speech as it includes the right to paint, sign, dance, write poetry, literature and is covered by Article 19(1)(a) because the common basiccharacteristic of all these activities is freedom of speech and expression.

Indian Justice System & Media Trial
It is unfortunate that trial by the media did, though to a very limited extent, affect the accused, but not tantamount to a prejudice which should weigh with the court in taking any different view. However, the media drew criticism in thereporting of Aarushi Talwar murder case, when it observed by court and reported that her own father Dr. Rajesh Talwar and her mother Nupur Talwar were involved in her murder.

The media has again come in to force in Aarushi Murder case. Media role was debated in the Priyadarshini Mattoo Case, Jessica Lal Murder case and many other high-profile cases. Trial is essential process for courts to be carried out. Before delving the issue of justifiability of media trial would be first to define what actually Media Trial wouldbe.

The breakdown of the Indian judicial system was termed as 'miscarriage of justice' by the media. In front of the India Gate, in support of demanding justice, a candle vigil was organized by media. Tehlka went for a sting operation, which exposed that the witnesses were bribed and the story was broadcast by Star News.

Public pressure built up with newspapers splashing headlines such as "No one killed Jessica". At that time the Hindustan Times went for a poll, which exposed the common people faith in the judiciary by measuring it as near about 2.7 Intense media and public pressure results the guilty life sentence. The justice was finally delivered delayed but not denied. This is the case where it clearly proves the corruption of the Indian judiciary system as well as the influence of money and power. Without media's intervention, it would have not been possible to get justice for a common man.

Witness Protection
It seemed at first sight an open and shut case. A model who worked as a celebrity barmaid is shot dead at point-blank range after refusing to serve a drink to two young men in a crowded South Delhi watering hole. The man accused of killing her - Manu Sharma, the son of a former Union Minister - flees the scene and absconds for an entire week before surrendering to the Delhi police.

The Jessica Lal murder case, in which a session's court acquitted all nine accused on the ground of insufficient evidence, is an instance of gross miscarriage of justice and raises serious questions about the criminal justice system. The collapse of the case is the result of two main causes. First, there were a couple of glaring holes in the prosecution's case.

Two bullets were fired, one in the air, on that fateful night and the Delhi police maintained that they both came from the same gun; however, a forensic report showed they were fired from different weapons. Moreover, the gun used to shoot Jessica Lal was not recovered, a failure that suggests a lack of diligence with which the case was investigated. However, what really sunk the case was a phenomenon that has become disturbingly familiar in high-profile cases - that of key witnesses turning hostile.

Common Law laid down certain peculiarities of a hostile witness such as "not desirous of telling the truth at the instance of the party calling him ". The witness protection program has been in existence in the United States since 1967. We can see some traces of witness protecting attempts in some of the statues. For example Section 30Prevention of Terrorism act states that "Since the life of the witness is in danger adequate measures should be taken to keep the identity and address of such a witness a secret. The mention of names and addresses of the witness should beavoided in any records of the case and even in the judgments."

Nevertheless, witnesses can be protected from turning hostile if we have provisions in law to secure interest of witness whose life is always at stake in case of heinous and other crimes against the state.

We can have provisions like:
  1. Transferring the witness from his city to of residence to another city.
  2. Government will provide the witness with a job similar to the same he/she was doing.
  3. The witness shall be given new name, and identity.

The Stigma of Sting operations
Many argue that it no doubt brings transparency in the system but still it is an invasion into the 'right to privacy' of a person. The carrying out of a sting operation may be an expression of the right to free press but it carrieswith it an indomitable duty to respect the privacy of others. The individual who is the subject of a press or television 'item' has his or her personality, reputation or career dashed to the ground after the media exposure. He too has a fundamental right to live with dignity and respect and a right to privacy guaranteed to him under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Landmark Cases:
  1. The Priyadarshini Mattoo Case[1]
    Priyadarshini Mattoo was a twenty-five-year-old law student when she was raped, brutally beaten and strangled to death at her New Delhi residence on January 23,1996. Although there was no eyewitness to the murder, physical and circumstantial evidence pointed immediately to Santosh Kumar Singh, the son of a senior police officer then posted in Pondicherry.

    The verdict of the lower court was reversed in October 2006, with the High Court finding that the "circumstantial evidence in the case is absolutely inconsistent... with the innocence of the respondent." Justices RS Sodhi and PK Bhasin observed that the acquittal by the trial judge had "shocked the judicial conscience" of theirCourt. Singh was sentenced a few days later to death by hanging.
  2. Nitish Katara Murder Case[2]
    While studying at the Institute of Management Technology in Ghaziabad in 1998, Nitish Katara became romantically involved with a classmate, Bharti Yadav. Bharti was the daughter of D.P. Yadav, a major force in Uttar Pradeshpolitics, and the sister of Vikas Yadav 16, who was subsequently convicted for destruction of evidence in the JessicaLal case. The case remains unresolved, and under intense public scrutiny. On October 3, 2016, the Supreme Court of India sentenced Vishal and Vikas Yadav to 25 years in prison.

    The Delhi high court had earlier sentenced the convicts to 25 years in jail for the murder, plus five years for destruction of evidence, with both sentences to runconsecutively. However, the Supreme Court allowed their sentences to run concurrently rather than consecutively; meaning the Yadav's would spend the next 25 years behind bars, rather than 30. Additionally, a third convict in the case, Sukhdev Pehalwan was sentenced to 20 years in Prison.

It may be hard to admit, but there are many instances, where the Judiciary has failed to ensure justice. Hence presently even with all the cons of Trial by Media, the pros outweigh them easily. This is mainly due to our ageing judicial system that has been manipulated time and again by the powerful. As long as the media exercises self-regulation to a certain extent, even the critics of Media Trials will have to accept it as a necessary evil.

It is imperative that we first introduce reforms to the other three pillars of democracy before we approach the subject of restriction on trials by media. The Jessica Lal case is one of several recent high-profile criminal cases that illustrate in dramatic fashion the manner in which witness tampering and public outrage can interact to determine judicial outcomes in India.

Media plays a very important role in a democratic country and the role of media is very vast in three aspects of the society i.e. in the ambit of press, privacy and expression. Our constitution although does not regard privacy as a fundamental right but still it is a right in which nobody should intervene. Individuals rights is to be left alone should not be violated in its private space but if it comes to national security and threat media can intervene too.

Media has full right to do separate investigations and help in the delivering of justice but should not be too quick in delivering the opinions, proper investigations and evidences should be examined and then the media should reach its conclusion for the welfare of society.

  1. Santosh Kumar Singh vs State Th. Cbi on 6 October, 2010
  2. Criminal Appeal NOS. 1531-1533 OF 2015 Vikas Yadav Versus State of U.P. and Ors.

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