India’s Supreme Court judge says he favors regulation of digital, social media


Supreme Court of India judge Justice J.B. Pardiwala called on Parliament to consider introducing appropriate legislative and regulatory provisions to regulate digital and social media as “trials by digital media cause undue interference in the process of justice dispensation.” He cited various instances of media crossing the “Laxman Rekha” at a symposium on Sunday.

Crossing the Lakshman Rekha is a metaphor taken from Indian mythology signifying crossing a line or a convention. Though the Lakshman Rekha is only used as a metaphor in India, United States constitutional law provides for what is called the Bright-line Rule, a clearly defined rule or standard, composed of objective factors, which leaves little or no room for varying interpretation.

Justice Pardiwala, part of the Supreme Court bench that slammed former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma for “igniting” the country and damaging India’s social fabric with her remark on Prophet Muhammad, emphasized on regulating digital and social media to preserve the rule of law.

“Media trials are not healthy for rule of law,” he said in his address on ‘Vox Populi vs. Rule of Law: Supreme Court of India’ at the 2nd Justice H.R. Khanna Memorial National Symposium.

“Regulation of digital and social media especially in the context of sensitive trials which are sub-judice, must be dwelt upon by the Parliament by introducing appropriate legislative and regulatory provisions in this regard,” he said.

He said a trial is essentially a process to be carried out by courts; however in the modern-day context, trials by digital media are an undue interference in the process of justice dispensation and cross that “Laxman Rekha” many times.

Justice Pardiwalwa said a section of people, possessing half-truths, scrutinising the judicial process “are a real challenge to dispensation of justice through the rule of law. Social and digital media nowadays primarily resorted to expressing personal opinions against judges rather than a constructive critical appraisal of their judgments”.

He said constitutional courts have graciously accepted informed dissent.

“This is where digital and social media need to be mandatorily regulated in the country to preserve the rule of law and our Constitution. Attacks on judges for their judgments lead to a dangerous scenario,” he said.

Justice Pardiwala said India still cannot be classified as a complete and mature democracy, and social and digital media are employed frequently to politicize legal and constitutional issues.

Citing the judgment in the Ayodhya title dispute, he pointed out that as the case was nearing its verdict, there were political overtones. “Judges deciding the dispute may get a bit shaken, which is antithetic to the rule of law. That is not healthy for the rule of law.”

He said social media is overrun by people “possessing half-truths” and those who don’t understand rule of law, evidence, judicial process and its inherent limitations. Justice Pardiwala said he was a “firm believer of the rule of law had no exceptions” and that “the opinion of the public hardly mattered when it came to judicial verdicts.” He said, “Judicial verdicts cannot be reflections of the influence of public opinion on the court.”