Now as Farce

The end of the journalistic code of silence around the courts

30 November 2020
From the arrival of JS Khehar as the Chief Justice of India to the departure of Ranjan Gogoi from the office, the rules of legal reporting have changed as much as the image of the Supreme Court itself.
illustration by paramjeet singh
From the arrival of JS Khehar as the Chief Justice of India to the departure of Ranjan Gogoi from the office, the rules of legal reporting have changed as much as the image of the Supreme Court itself.
illustration by paramjeet singh

Just four years ago, though it feels longer, towards the end of TS Thakur’s tenure as the Chief Justice of India, I interviewed a retired judge about the state of the Supreme Court. We started talking in the middle of the afternoon, and when I left the judge’s house it was almost dark. Though initially hesitant, the judge unearthed so many grievances once he started talking that he could not stop. At times he was breathless. In his telling, the top court was a house of cards, its occupants were concerned about nothing but their own interests, the process of appointing judges to it was a sham and the future looked bleak. The judge did not just tell me stories, he named characters.

The next morning, at 6 am, I got a call from the judge. “I spoke too much yesterday,” I remember him saying. He told me that he had not slept all night as he went over everything he had told me. He asked me to not use all that in my story, or in any case to hide his name. I wrote the story including what I could from the conversation, the parts I could back up myself, since the judge had already withdrawn his name.

My draft went to a lawyer, who sent it back with her concerns. Among other things, almost everything I had put in based on the conversation was highlighted. It was too serious or too scandalous, the lawyer said, and would likely provoke charges of contempt. If it goes to court, I was asked, would the judge back me up? I could not be sure, and the story went to press without those parts.

Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: media Supreme Court of India Supreme Court legal journalism judiciary JS Khehar Ranjan Gogoi Dipak Misra Tushar Mehta
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