I learnt Court reporting the hard way as a Reporter of The Hindu at Delhi between 1986 and 1992.Despite my having no legal knowledge, I was assigned Tees Hazari and Patiala House courts and later the Delhi High Court.
Due to my ignorance about specific legal terminology I landed in soup also.I recall one instance when D was granted bail in the Charles Sobhraj case (I don’t remember exactly) under a specific section of the IPC and I wrote “D who was arrested was granted bail and so on.” A legal notice was served but the matter was ultimately resolved. So I brushed up my knowledge of the law.
When I was covering High Court, Justice B.N.Kirpal made oral observations and like other journalists I too reported. However, later the written order did not allude to the oral observations at all. There was a stinker I remember. My boss and mentor P.K.Bharadwaj, a lawyer by profession who knows most of the Judges from the district courts level to the Supreme Court, gave me pearls of wisdom.
Whenever a Judge made any oral observations or pronounced the order orally, I was to consult him before filing the story. PKB would instantly phone the judge and ask him what actually was to be reported or not reported. The message was loud and clear in The Hindu those days: File a story after seeing the order. And in major cases verify and cross-check the proceedings before writing.
Now things have changed. My friends who cover Courts,especially those in the electronic media, rely on what the defence lawyer or prosecutor may tell them about what happened inside the Court and even oral observations made by the Judge are passed on maybe inadvertently. I don’t know how many friends are present in the Court and listen to the proceedings.
There is a need on the part of the media to be absolutely cautious while reporting affairs of the judiciary. Also media friends covering the Courts,especially those related with the electronic media, should refrain from making sweeping observations/interpretations on their own.