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HRH Princess Sonam Dechan Wanghuck with the participants of the workshop

Naming and shaming of suspects is wrong, say justices

Naming and shaming of suspects should be the last baton for the media or any investigating agency before the due process of law is followed, High Court Justice Lungten Drubgyur told members of the media yesterday.

It was the first workshop for representatives from the media conducted by the judiciary to help understand reporting on legal issues.

“Naming and shaming should be the last resort by police, media and courts,” he said. “As a country that upholds the principle of law, the law should be respected.”

Media cannot publish pictures and names about minors in conflict with law. By publishing reports about suspects, the media run the risks of getting sued.

“Police may release the identity of the accused only in public interest,” Justice Lungten Drubgyur said. “Police may release photographs of fugitives or absconders from court warrant and evading arrests.”

Justice Lungten Drubgyur said that every suspect has the right to the presumption of innocence, proof beyond reasonable doubts, right to bail, fair and independent public trial, exhaustive yet expeditious hearing, out of turn hearing as far as possible, a reasoned decision, and right to appeal.

Procedural guarantees of suspects in criminal procedure include lawful arrest, fair, expeditious and public trial and the right to legal counsel.

In the case of evidence, voluntary confessions before investigation authorities alone would not be valid and there should be corroboration of pieces of evidence.

“Procedural guarantee is also ensuring due process and fairness,” he said.

Substantive legal rights of suspects show that a suspect can be charged only on the basis of laws and its specific violation.

“No one should be convicted on suspicion. The substantive guarantee also means in accordance with law or based on equality, distributive, corrective, compensatory and reformatory justice,” he said.

There are numerous Constitutional guarantees of suspects designed to protect the individual against state interference. These include the Right to a fair trial, Right to freedom from torture, abuse, Right to the protection of the law, and the Right to presume innocence, among others.

“The suspects should be treated fairly,” he said.

However, there are exceptions. Naming and shaming would be justified in the case of pressing national security, public safety issues, or public officials, among others.

For politicians or other public figures, the accountability increases with one’s responsibilities.

“Public figures necessarily sacrifice their right to privacy, where public scrutiny is in the public interest,” Justice Lungten Drubgyur said.

But public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy altogether. Intrusion into their right to privacy must be related to their public duties or activities.

Justice Lungten Drubgyur said media reports in the country are always one sided.  “Media takes a stand just going by police or Anti-Corruption Commission reports, thereby depriving a person the presumption of innocence, proof beyond reasonable doubts, and fair and independent public trial because media already pass the judgment,” he said.

“Media is like dogs. They will wag their tails if you are friendly but they can also bite you.”

Understanding the legal principles will help the media and the judiciary develop a relationship that serve both freedom of expression and the judicial independence.

The Madrid Principles states that the media have an obligation to respect the rights of individuals, protected by the International Covenants, the Constitution and the specific provision of the laws in respect of the independence of the judiciary.

“It is the function and right of the media to gather and convey information to the public and to comment on the administration of justice, including cases before, during and after the trial but without violating the presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” Justice Lungten Drubgyur said. “Avoid being judgmental.”

The Justice said that releasing CCTV footages of people stealing from their shops is tantamount to taking laws into their own hands. Ideally, such footage has to be reported to Police for investigation and then due process of law must take place.

The reasonable restriction on naming and shaming also stems from the interpretation of Article 7 Section 22 of the Constitution on fundamental rights.

The state can subject reasonable restriction by law on fundamental rights when it concerns the interests of sovereignty, security, unity and integrity of Bhutan; the interests of peace, stability and well-being of the nation, the interests of friendly relations with foreign States; incitement to an offence on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion or region; the disclosure of information received in regard to the affairs of the State or in discharge of official duties; or the rights and freedom of others.

Tshering Palden 

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