Madras High Court’s remarks against Election Commission not part of judicial order: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said the question of expunging the Madras High Court’s critical remarks holding the Election Commission of India (ECI) responsible for a surge in COVID cases does not arise as they are not part of the judicial order.

The top court also trashed the plea that media be restrained from reporting observations of court proceedings, saying it will be a ‘retrograde’ act.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud acknowledged however that the high court’s remarks were ‘harsh’ and at times ‘off the cuff remarks are susceptible for misinterpretation.’

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

Lauding high courts for commendable work done by them in effectively supervising the COVID-19 pandemic management, the top court said, “It will be retrograde to restrain HCs from making observations or gagging media from reporting observations.”

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

The apex court further stated that Article 19 of the Constitution not only gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to people but also confer the same right to media.

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

The 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.

While reserving the verdict on May 3, the bench had batted for “free flow of dialogue” in courts and said that it would neither restrain the media from reporting oral observations made during proceedings in the public interest nor demoralise high courts – “vital pillars of democracy” – by asking them to refrain from raising questions.