The Delhi high court in turn sought the response of the city government and the police on a plea seeking permission for media to report proceedings during the pre-trial and trial phases of the case relating to the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl, who later succumbed to injuries in a Singapore hospital.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher fixed the matter for February 13 to examine how to balance the rights of the media and conducting trial in the rape cases.
The petition was filed in the wake of the January 7 order of a magisterial court directing in camera hearing of the case and restraining the media from reporting it. The magistrate's order was later upheld by the district court on January 9.
The plea by the journalists was mentioned by advocate Meenakshi Lekhi before the bench headed by Chief Justice D Murugesan on Thursday who had directed that it be filed before a single judge bench of the high court.
Lekhi had moved a petition on behalf of some journalists assailing the gag order.
"The whole nation wants to know about the proceedings in the case and the media, which undertakes to act responsibly, should not be gagged," she had said.
Agreeing to examine the issues raised by the scribes, Justice Shakdher, however, made clear that the pendency of the plea would not come in the way of proceedings before the lower court, which would have the discretion to decide the manner in which the gang-rape case could be heard.
On being suggested by the Delhi police that scribes should approach the court concerned with their grievances, Lekhi said, "Media is not challenging the January 7 order of the magistrate as it has no locus in the case. I am neither the victim nor the accused. I am on the larger issue that relates to Article 19 (1) (a) (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution and other rights such as right to practise profession. I can't access anything. I have no right to publish anything. Entire conduct of prosecution is suspect."
So far as self-restraint is concerned, despite the fact that the name and the photographs of the victim are in public domain, neither any newspaper nor any channel has published the same.
This is not an adversarial kind of litigation, she said, adding, the press will abide by any direction but it must be given the access to the courtroom.
The court, which initially fixed the matter for hearing on March 5, later advanced it to February 13 after Lekhi contended that delayed hearing would render the plea "infructuous".
Dayan Krishnan, counsel for police, said, "This is not a situation of a gag order. This is a rape trial. The fact that the victim died cannot take away the nature or seriousness of the offence. Otherwise it would be a violation of Section 327 (2) and (3) of the CrPC (which prohibits open courtroom trial for rape cases with certain exceptions)."
Lekhi, however, countered saying, "Today we can't even say committal has happened."