The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed concern over abusive and derogatory comments on social media and agreed with the contention of two senior advocates that people doing so should face the consequences.
The court also hit back at those alleging that judges were increasingly becoming “pro-government”. It said such accusations were unfortunate and people should come and sit in courtrooms to see how courts “hauled up” the government to protect the rights of citizens.
The court was hearing a plea seeking its direction to restrain ministers and those holding public offices from expressing their views in criminal cases which might affect the probe.
The issue came up after Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan termed the Bulandshahr gang rape last year as “an outcome of political conspiracy”+ . A petition was filed against him in the apex court by the survivor’s family following his remarks.
The court referred the matter to a constitution bench and said the larger bench would be at liberty to frame questions for adjudication, including the issue of social media.
Emphasising the need to regulate social media to restrain people from posting objectionable and abusive posts, senior advocates Fali Nariman and Harish Salve, who are assisting the court as amicus curiae, narrated their own ugly experiences with trolls to a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud.
Salve said, “People have to be made accountable. Tweets are posted on a public platform. It is so abusive that I had to close my Twitter account. Consequences must follow for people misusing it.” He said even government functionaries were using the medium and saying that it was their personal view. Some regulation was urgently required, he added.
Supporting Salve’s stand, Nariman said, “It (social media) is horrible and nobody bothers about it. Some principle has to be evolved.”
Justice Chandrachud, who perhaps follows social media, expressed concern over the untamed online space and said wrong information pertaining to even court proceedings were posted and circulated.
He referred to a recent case where the court’s observations were circulated on social media as if they were part of the verdict and people started attacking the SC. “We were discussing the case during the proceedings but people took it as if it was a judgment and went on attacking the Supreme Court,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud also recalled that Nariman was viciously attacked on social media after appearing for Rohingya migrants. “I was shocked to see the kind of comments made against him. People feel free to say anything. It is shocking,” he said.
Nariman said it was better to stay away from social media. “I am in a reasonably happy state because I don’t have a Twitter account,” he said.
The bench added that a person’s reputation was linked to his fundamental right which must be respected by others.
On some people alleging that judges had a “pro-government bias”, the bench said it was hardly the case.
Without naming anyone, the bench pointed to a statement on TV by a senior advocate alleging that “nowadays, judges had become pro-government in their approach”.
“A former president of a bar association went on television saying that present day judges are pro-government. People should come and sit in courtrooms to see how the government is hauled up by courts in favour of citizen’s rights,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The court’s remarks assume significance as the SC has been facing criticism for its decision to transfer Justice Jayant Patel from Karnataka High Court to Allahabad HC, leading to the judge’s resignation.
A controversy got attached to the resignation as Justice Patel had ordered a CBI probe into the Ishrat Jahan “fake encounter” case when he was a judge in Gujarat HC. Lawyers, including former Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave, had criticised the decision.