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Report No. 200

Chapter VI

Does 'A.K. Gopalan v. Noordeen" (1969)(SC) make 'imminence' relevant only in respect of arrests for serious offences? What is the effect of the 24 hour rule?

In this Chapter we shall deal with an editorial comment in the SCC report of A.K. Gopalan v. Noordeen: 1969(2) SCC 734 where it is observed that that case held criminal proceedings are imminent because it was a case of arrest in a murder case. If the offence is not serious, arrest does not mean criminal proceedings are imminent.

We propose to discuss this view critically. We have, as will be seen at the end of this Chapter, come to the conclusion on an exhaustive discussion, that there can be no question of criminal proceedings being 'imminent' after arrest only in case of 'serious' offences. No such distinction between 'serious' and 'less serious' offences can be recognized nor has been recognized in any country for deciding if criminal proceedings are 'imminent' after an arrest.

We start our discussion with the two Supreme Court judgments dealing with the word 'imminent'.

The first case on the subject is Surendra Mohanty v. State of Orissa (Criminal Appeal No. 107 of 1956: Judgment dated 23.1.1961) and the second one is A.K.Gopalan v. Noordeen 1969(2) SCC 734 to which we have already referred.

(a) In the first case in Surendra Mohanty, (unreported, quoted in extenso in A.K. Gopalan's case) the Supreme Court examined the question as to whether the prejudicial publication of a statement in the media at a time when the only step taken was the recording of first information report under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1898, could be contempt of court. Kapur, J observed:

"Before the publication of the comments complained of, only the first information report was filed in which though some persons were mentioned as being suspected of being responsible for causing the breach in the Bund, there was no definite allegation against any one of them. In the charge-sheet subsequently filed by the police these suspects do not appear amongst the persons accused.

It was, therefore, argued that by the publication there could not be any tendency or likelihood to interfere with the due course of justice. The learned Additional Solicitor-General for the State submitted on the other hand that if there is a reasonable probability of a prosecution being launched against any person and such prosecution be merely imminent, the publication would be a contempt of court.

The Contempt of Courts Act (1952) confers on the High Courts the power to punish for the contempt of inferior courts. This power is both wide and has been termed arbitrary. The courts must exercise this power with circumspection, carefully and with restraint and only in cases where it is necessary for maintaining the course of justice pure and unaffected. It must be shown that it was probable that the publication would substantially interfere with the due course of justice; commitment for contempt is not a matter of course but within the discretion of the court which must be exercised with caution. T

o constitute contempt is not necessary to show that as a matter of fact a judge or jury will be prejudiced by the offending publication but the essence of the offence is conduct calculated to produce an atmosphere of prejudice in the midst of which the proceedings will have to go on and a tendency to interfere with the due course of justice or to prejudice mankind against persons who are on trial or who may be brought to trial.

It must be used to preserve citizen's rights to have a fair trial of their causes and proceeding in an atmosphere free of all prejudice or prepossession. It will be contempt if there is a publication of any news or comments which have a tendency to or are calculated to or are likely to prejudice the parties or their causes or to interfere with the due course of justice.

As to when the proceedings begin or when they are imminent for the purposes of the offence of contempt of court must depend upon the circumstances of each case, and it is unnecessary in this case to define the exact boundaries within which they are to be confined.

The filing of a first information report does not, by itself, establish that proceedings in a court of law are imminent. In order to do this various facts will have to be proved and in each case that question would depend on the facts proved."

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

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