I will make my bias for writing the post clear at the outset. I started my litigation practice after completing my Masters in intellectual property and returning to India in 2005. Like every other rookie in the Courts, I was assigned the job of observing the proceedings and to learn. In legal parlance, rookies are counsels to take passovers in the Courts at best in their initial phase.
It was His Honour Swatanter Kumar who grilled the confidence in me and made me totally comfortable to argue a matter before him. Long story short, the patient Judge asked my Senior to sit next to me and assist me when required. I completed the final arguments of the case when I was just two weeks old in the profession. Knowing the file quite well also helped me from not fainting during the arguments in a courtroom packed of lawyers.
Of many instances when I got a chance to appear before His Honour Kumar, I once also saw a matter where an elderly lady was in his Court who knew no English and could speak only in Punjabi. Justice Kumar spoke to her in Punjabi patiently and kept dictating the order in English as well. The list is endless but the purpose is just to express my experience of the Judge, as a Judge.
Much has already been in circulation about the magnitude of the recent allegations against His Honour Swatanter Kumar. This post is not about that. Not exactly, about that.
Since January 10th when CNN-IBN first broke the news that the intern had named His Honour in her affidavit, nearly the entire media had been presenting the same news with as much juice as possible. After having witnessed the recent media frenzy against His Honour A. K. Ganguly and the way TV crews were chasing the Judge nearly every possible place to shove a microphone at His mouth, we all apprehended same frenzy against His Honour Kumar as well.
Although the intern has moved the Supreme Court for implementations of the Vishaka guidelines, His Honour Kumar also filed a civil action for defamation against certain national dailies and news channels seeking damages.
Justice Manmohan Singh’s interim order passed today in Justice Swatanter Kumar’s suit can be accessed here. Justice Singh has restrained the Defendants in the interim from showing Justice Kumar’s photographs among other relief. Justice Kumar’s counsel fairly conceded during the course of hearing that there can be no embargo on news report insofar they are disseminating news and information.
Coming back to the media, just to fill the 24 hours slot, a news channel cannot, and should not, be allowed to add or insert contents which are not even remotely the suggestions in the main complaint.
A particular journalist’s tweet, on the allegations surrounding His Honour Kumar, I found utterly objectionable. In fact, even if assuming that all the allegations against the Judge are proven true even then such a language cannot be used by anyone. Especially not from someone in the media who boast of the very freedom of speech and expression which the Courts provide them.
In legal fraternity, everyone is hoping that the matter is resolved soon. Justice Kumar has spent close to half a century in the profession, he has a name to reckon with. Of course as of now the matter is only His words against hers but media should behave very cautiously while adding a thousand words in the name of editorial content when the basic complaint is not even of 100 words. An independent media should not be interfered with, not even by the Courts unless the situation demands.
Justice Singh also laid emphasis that there should be a time limit before which the girl should initiate the complaint. I concur totally. Waiting for more than a year to file a complaint does not help the case, the cause and the parties involved. If her allegations are true, by sitting over the matter for a considerable length of time, the intern has not really helped herself that much. I understand it required a great deal of courage on her part to take on a Judge in a legal battle even when her own career has not commenced. It is also a sorry state of affairs since the Supreme Court itself had not been able to appoint a committee in terms of the Vishaka guidelines which the Court laid down more than a decade ago. Maybe such a mechanism, if was existing and working, would have expedited the matter, who knows.
Legal battles are supposed to be fought in the Courtroom with evidence, even though circumstantial in a given case. News channels / papers can never be allowed to decide these battles.
Let us see how the legal proceedings in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court shape up in time to come.