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Report No. 200

K. Gopalan v. Noordeen: (1969)

In A.K. Gopalan v. Noordeen: (AIR 1969(2) SCC 734) (decided on th September, 1969 before the 1971 Act), the Supreme Court held that a criminal proceeding is imminent only when an arrest had taken place. In that case, a person lost his life in an incident and first information report was lodged on the same day. About a week later, Mr. A.K. Gopalan (appellant) made a statement and three days later, the respondent and his brother were arrested and remanded to police custody.

The statement was published in a newspaper after the arrest. The respondent moved the High Court for contempt against the appellant, editor, printer and publisher of newspaper. The High Court held them all guilty of contempt of Court as the statement on publications were after the filing of the first information report. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal of Mr. A.K. Gopalan but dismissed the appeal of the editor. The Court held:

(i) Committal for contempt is not a matter of course. It is a matter of discretion of the Court and such discretion must be exercised with caution. The power must be exercised with circumspection and restraint and only when it is necessary.

(ii) The publication to constitute contempt must be shown to be such that it would substantially interfere with the due course of justice.

(iii) On the date on which the first appellant made his statement, it could not be said that any proceedings in a criminal court were imminent merely because a first information report has been lodged. The accused were not arrested till after his statement is made and there was nothing to suggest imminence of proceedings, and there was nothing to show that the first appellant was instrumental in getting the statement published after the arrest.

(iv) The fundamental right to freedom of speech will be unduly restrained if it is held that there should be no comment on a case even before an arrest had been made. In fact, in cases of public scandals involving companies, it is the duty of free press to comment on such topics and draw the attention of the public.

(v) As regards the editor, the proceedings in the criminal court were imminent, because by the date the statement was published, the accused was arrested, and remanded by the magistrate, which shows that proceedings in a court were imminent. The possibility of the accused being released after further investigation is there, but is remote. Even though the name of the accused was not mentioned, it was indicated that the person who committed murder was acting in pursuance of a conspiracy, and that would certainly put the public against the accused.

(The dissenting Judge Mitter J, held that even the first appellant was guilty of contempt of court.)

We have earlier referred to Smt. Padmavatti Devi v. R.K. Karanjia, AIR 1963 MP 61, and other cases where it was held that the law of contempt should be available in cognisable offences from the time when the first information report is filed. This view should be regarded as having been superseded by the Supreme Court decision in A.K. Gopalan v. Noordeen to the extent it said that the criminal proceedings must be treated as imminent from the date of filing of first information report and even before any arrest is made.

The Supreme Court judgment in A.K. Gopalan is quite important in that it decides -

(1) that criminal proceeding must be deemed to be imminent if the suspect is arrested;

(2) that if a prejudicial publication is made regarding a person who has been arrested by the police, then the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) must give way to the right of the person to a fair trial to be conducted without any prejudice and any prejudicial publication in the press after arrest may cause substantial prejudice in the criminal proceedings which must be taken to be imminent, irrespective of whether the person is released later.

Trial by Media free speech and fair trial under Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 Back

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