On 1st June 2021, while dealing with the plea by 4 journalists challenging validity of the VC rules of the Madhya Pradesh HC, the Court witnessed a heated and long drawn exchange.
The discussion between the bench comprising Justice Sheel Nagu and Justice Gurpal Singh Ahluwalia and the petitioners led by senior advocate Mr Nidhesh Gupta assisted by Advocate Manu Maheshwari, resulted in the court asking, “Won’t seeking access to each and every proceeding’s detail and reporting the same amount to too much intervention in the functioning of the court.”
The legal journalists, Nupur Thapliyal, Sparsh Upadhyay, Areeb Uddin Ahmed and Rahul challenged the Madhya Pradesh VC and audio-visual Electronic Linkage Rules, 2020 asserting that the same limits the ability of media persons in real-time reporting for the public at large.
Senior Advocate Nidhesh Gupta argued that rule 16 of the VC rules turned the concept of “open courts” upside down and made “seeking permission for court access” a rule and “unrestricted access” an exception. He further argued that it is violative of the fundamental principle of open courts and transparent justice.
To this Justice, Nagu remarked that, “Won’t it amount to asking for too much by claiming a right to know and report whatever constitutes part of oral observations and discussions from the Bench. Whether a ‘dialogue per set can constitute ‘Court Proceedings’ to be claimed as a right to be reported? It’s like a ‘manufacturing process, where the final product is the judgment you can’t claim a right to know about the manufacturing process itself which may be required to keep it confidential.”
The Bench further expressed that it can also lead to reporting of off-record concession given to the lawyers, which in turn can malign his/her profession and can apparently reflect an altogether different picture of the court’s functioning
The petitioner replied that the Supreme Court in its judgement of the Chief Election Commissioner Case reflected that even oral remarks, discussions, oral observations of the bench constitute part of the court proceeding and covered within the ambit of Article 19 (1) (a) & principles of open courts.
Furthermore, Mr Gupta said that Transparency and openness have their own price and due to few difficulties we can’t say that the rule becomes justified.