As the outrage over the Kathua rape case continued, the Supreme Court today stepped in to warn the lawyers in Jammu that they cannot obstruct the process of law while the Delhi High Court restrained the media from revealing the identity of the victim by any means.
The top court took umbrage against the lawyers body of Kathua and Jammu for obstructing the way of the counsel of the victim's family in the trial court, saying that advocates' bodies have a solemn duty to not obstruct members of legal fraternity representing the parties.
The Delhi High Court had also taken up on its own taken up the reports in the media disclosing the identity of the victim and asked them why action should not be taken against them, both print and electronic media, for violating the privacy of the minor. "A whole media trial is going on," it said.
In the top court, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud sought responses on the conduct of lawyers from the Bar Council of India, Jammu and Kashmir Bar Council, Jammu High Court Bar Association and Kathua district bar association by April 19.
The apex court was also critical of Jammu High Court Bar Association, which had passed a resolution to not attend the courts, saying "it is the duty of the Bar Association as a collective body and they cannot obstruct the process of law".
"If a lawyer who is engaged, is obstructed from appearing in the court or if his client is deprived of being represented in the court when he is entitled to do so in a lawful manner, that affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice and interference with the administration of justice," the bench said in its order.
In the High Court, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar frowned upon media houses for disclosing the identity of the girl and asked why action be not taken against them for "injustice to the privacy and dignity of the victim".
The high court also prohibited the media from revealing any further identity of the victim by any means, including name and photographs for which 12 media houses, comprising print and electronic, were issued notices for the "unfortunate" and "extremely distressing" manner of reporting.
The High Court, which like the apex court, on its own took cognisance of the media reports, said that there was a need for the media to "circumspect on reporting to the extent it is in contravention of the law".
"Freedom of press has to be balanced with integrity of judicial process and must comport with the requirement of the law," the high court said and issued notices to 12 media houses and prohibited them "from effecting any publication including the name, address, photograph, family details, school details, neighbourhood or any other particulars which may have an effect of leading to the disclosure of the identity of the child victim".
It said that it was restricting issuance of notice to only the 12 entities as it did not have information of the other media houses which have effected similar publications and when the details would be known, notices would be issued to them as well.
Section 23 of POCSO law lays down the procedure for the media to report cases of sexual offences against child victims and section 228A of IPC deals with disclosure of identity of victims of such offences. The penal law provides for jail term of two years with a fine.
The court said that the violation of section 228A is treated as an offence against public justice.
The case related to an eight-year-old girl who had disappeared from near her home in a village near Kathua in the Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
The state police's Crime Branch, which probed the case, filed a main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district earlier this week.
The charge sheet revealed chilling details about how the girl was allegedly kidnapped, drugged and raped inside a place of worship before being killed.
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