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Underlining that “a courtroom is a public space", the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that real-time reporting of court proceedings was an extension of the freedom of speech and expression of the press and that “public constitutional institutions must find better responses than to complain".

Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah dismissed a plea by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to restrain media from reporting oral observations of the judges that the poll body was singularly responsible for a second wave in the country and that its officials should be tried on murder charges for allowing political parties to hold massive rallies without following covid-19 protocols.

“We find no substance in the prayer of the EC for restraining the media from reporting on court proceedings. This court stands as a staunch proponent of the freedom of the media to report court proceedings. This, we believe, is integral to the freedom of speech and expression of those who speak, of those who wish to hear and to be heard and, above all, in holding the judiciary accountable to the values which justify its existence as a constitutional institution," held the top court.

It highlighted that with the advent of technology, reporting has proliferated via social media forums which provided real-time updates to a much wider audience. “This is an extension of the freedom of speech and expression that the media possesses. This constitutes a virtual extension of the open court," it said.

On 26 April, the Madras high court made scathing remarks against ECI while hearing a writ petition by Tamil Nadu transport minister M.R. Vijayabhaskar, who sought a direction for safety measures and fairness during counting in Karur constituency from where he was contesting.

In its appeal before the Supreme Court, the ECI maintained that the remarks made by the high court had tarnished its image as an independent authority. The Supreme Court said the high court could have been cautious in its remarks but declined to issue an order of expunging them after noting that oral remarks were not a part of the official judicial record at all.

At the same time, the bench acknowledged that the ECI shouldered a significant burden in ensuring the sanctity of electoral democracy, adding that judges should exercise caution in off-the-cuff remarks in open court.

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