Attorney General of India KK Venugopal on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to step in and examine the role of media while deciding on contempt of court cases, reported Live Law. He raised serious concerns about “media trials” and comments in the media about matters pending before the court.

“Print and electronic media are freely commenting on pending cases in an attempt to influence outcome of such matters,” Venugopal told the court. “It amounts to contempt of court.” Venugopal recalled the “big articles and commentaries with extracts of certain documents being published” on the day the Rafale case was to be heard.

The attorney general made the comments as he assisted the top court in dealing with a contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan filed in 2009. He said that the top court, while deciding on matters relating to what kind of speech and publications may amount to contempt, should also consider these. Venugopal suggested to the bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar that the scope of the present adjudication be expanded.

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal agreed that the law of contempt should be seen in the light of the new communication system, reported PTI.

However, senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan, representing Bhushan, did not agree with the attorney general. “The issue of sub judice has already been dealt with by this court in the Sahara judgement,” he said. “Deliberation on these issues about media will further expand the scope of this case when we already had compact issues.” He quoted Lord Reid, a Scottish judge, to say “When Shylock’s case is on, can we tell the press not to talk about it?”

The bench then adjourned the hearing to November 4. It also requested senior advocate Harish Salve, who was appearing in this matter as the amicus curiae since 2009, to assist the bench on the next date.

The 2009 contempt case

The case relates to an interview Bhushan gave to the Tehelka magazine in 2009, in which he made allegations of corruption in the Supreme Court and said that half of the previous 16 chief justices were corrupt.

On August 4, a bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari had reserved orders on whether to accept Bhushan’s explanation and said it would proceed to hear the case in detail only if they found his arguments acceptable. The top court told Bhushan that there was a “thin line” between contempt and freedom of speech.

Bhushan had refused to apologise but offered an explanation. On August 25, the Supreme Court then referred the case to a different “appropriate bench”.

On September 10, the Supreme Court sought assistance from Venugopal in the case. It said the attorney general would be impleaded in the case as per Rule 10 of the Supreme Court. However, a decision on whether he would be appointed as an amicus curiae in the case would be taken later.