NEW DEILHI – The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its judgment on a plea which sought free public access to charge sheets filed by the police and investigative agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
A bench of Justices M.R. Shah and C.T. Ravikumar orally observed that if charge sheets are given to those unrelated to the case, busybodies, NGOs then they might be misused.
“Charge sheets cannot be given to everybody,” it held.
The top court was hearing a plea by journalist and transparency activist Saurav Das, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan.
During the hearing, the bench indicated that the issue of the ED’s chargesheets being made public had already been dealt with in last year’s PMLA judgment passed by a three-judge bench of the apex court.
Citing Section 74 of the Indian Evidence Act, Bhushan argued that charge sheets were “public documents”, which can be accessed.
He contended that the court could pass similar directions similar to in the case of the Youth Bar Association, where first information reports (FIRs) were directed to be uploaded online within 24 hours.
He also said that public authorities prepare charge sheets after due investigation and there are no reasons why people should not be able to access it.
After hearing arguments, the bench said it will consider the plea and will pass a detailed order.
The plea said: “While the direction of the Supreme Court directing the police to publish copies of FIRs on their websites has indeed induced transparency in the working of the criminal justice system, the logic of disclosure applied more strongly to charge sheets, for while FIRs are based on unsubstantiated allegations, charge sheets are filed are due investigation”.
The plea said citizens have a legal and constitutional right to proactive disclosure of charge sheets because the right to know is a fundamental right emanating from the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) and is also laid down as a law by the apex court through a catena of judgments.
“To induce transparency, it is incumbent on the Respondents to make available charge sheets on their websites and enable public access to charge sheets so that the citizenry can stay informed, and the press can faithfully and accurately report on criminal trials,” the plea said. -IANS