SC:Displeasure with manner of investigation, no ground to transfer it to CBI

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 19th May 2020, in the matter of Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India & Ors. pronounced that the displeasure of an accused person about the manner in which the investigation proceeds or an unsubstantiated allegation of a conflict of interest against the police conducting the investigation must not derail the legitimate course of law and warrant the invocation of the extraordinary power of the Court to transfer an investigation to the CBI.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Article 32 of the Constitution constitutes a recognition of the constitutional duty entrusted to this Court to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. The exercise of journalistic freedom lies at the core of speech and expression protected by Article 19(1)(a). (Para 32)

India‟s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak truth to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal. The exercise of that fundamental right is not absolute and is answerable to the legal regime enacted with reference to the provisions of Article 19(2). But to allow a journalist to be subjected to multiple complaints and to the pursuit of remedies traversing multiple states and jurisdictions when faced with successive FIRs and complaints bearing the same foundation has a stifling effect on the exercise of that freedom. This will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society. (Para 32)

The right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express. But we must as a society never forget that one cannot exist without the other. Free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position. (Para 32)

Any reasonable restriction on fundamental rights must comport with the proportionality standard, of which one component is that the measure adopted must be the least restrictive measure to effectively achieve the legitimate state aim. Subjecting an individual to numerous proceedings arising in different jurisdictions on the basis of the same cause of action cannot be accepted as the least restrictive and effective method of achieving the legitimate state aim in prosecuting crime. (Para 33)

The transfer of an investigation to the CBI is not a matter of routine. This is an “extraordinary power” to be used “sparingly” and “in exceptional circumstances”. (Para 36)

The power to transfer an investigation must be used “sparingly” and only “in exceptional circumstances”. (Para 38)

An accused person does not have a choice in regard to the mode or manner in which the investigation should be carried out or in regard to the investigating agency. (Para 39)

The investigating agency is entitled to determine the nature of the questions and the period of questioning. (Para 41)

An individual under investigation has a legitimate expectation of a fair process which accords with law. The displeasure of an accused person about the manner in which the investigation proceeds or an unsubstantiated allegation of a conflict of interest against the police conducting the investigation must not derail the legitimate course of law and warrant the invocation of the extraordinary power of the Court to transfer an investigation to the CBI. (Para 44)

Courts assume the extraordinary jurisdiction to transfer an investigation in exceptional situations to ensure that the sanctity of the administration of criminal justice is preserved. While no inflexible guidelines are laid down, the notion that such a transfer is an “extraordinary power” to be used “sparingly” and “in exceptional circumstances” comports with the idea that routine transfers would belie not just public confidence in the normal course of law but also render meaningless the extraordinary situations that warrant the exercise of the power to transfer the investigation. (Para 44)

Copy of judgment: Judgement_19-May-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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