Publishing opinion or analysis of a case, including posts on social media, which is under trial in a court is sub judice, drangpons said.

The legal definition of sub judice states that a case is under judicial consideration or trial and therefore, prohibited from public discussion elsewhere.

Media personnel and the drangpons including High Court Justices debated on the rights to freedom of expression or information, public interest in cases and the need to ensure fair trial during a workshop for media.

In absence of clear rules on what constitutes sub judice, reporters asked the court officials how to avoid coming in conflict with the laws when covering court hearings and trials.

Bhutan National Legal Institute’s (BNLI) drangpon Tharchean said that courts around the world have long grappled with the dilemma of balancing the public’s right to free speech and the government’s duty to administer fair and impartial justice.

While the sub judice rule may be considered as a curtailment of the right to free speech, it is “necessary to ensure the proper administration of justice and the right of an accused to a fair trial.”

He said that if a baseless swings of a reporter’s pen scratches another’s nose, then the reporter faces law like any ordinary citizens. “The right to freedom of expression is not higher than the fundamental rights of others.”

Drangpon Tharchean said that sub judice is a tool to protect the institutional position of the courts as the forum for the adjudication of legal disputes and guards against trial by media. “Public confidence in the judicial system may be undermined if a court comes to a different conclusion from that which the media coverage suggests the conclusion should be.”

He also said that the integrity of the judicial process is an essential component of the rule of law and that if the rule of law is itself eroded through compromising the integrity of the judicial process then all constitutional rights and freedoms, including the freedom of press, are also compromised.

However, High Court Justice Lungten Dubgyur said that factual reporting of the court proceedings does not constitute sub judice. “But the report or information can’t be opinionated, or judgmental.”

He said that the general media practice followed today is acceptable since it relays the facts of a case from the hearings to the public.

Thimphu dzongkhag  court’s drangpon, Lobzang Rinzin Yargay said the media should report in such a way that it does not influence the judgment.

Tshering Palden