We are all armchair judges all the time, pronouncing people innocent or guilty of several acts because of our perception of that person. I mean, how many of you have called a girl names in school because she happened to be friends with a few guys. But to go out and pronounce someone innocent or guilty in a pending judicial matter is something else altogether. While I think that Manu Sharma is guilty and I thought that Santosh Singh was guilty as well and I'm pretty sure that Vikas Yadav will latko as most people think he should, subverting justice by emblazoning it across front pages or the nine o'clock news is a different matter. In a weird sort of way, while I think Ram Jethmalani tried to subvert justice (again) he does have a point, a person is entitled to a fair trial and the media must not hang him.
The media has a role to play in exposing a sham trial - like they did in the Jessica and Priyadarshini cases, and there was clearly a miscarriage of justice there, but I think some people did go overboard. There are very few of us in the profession who are constitutional or legal experts - heck, if I knew the law well, I would have been a lawyer, it is booming like any other profession you know. The problem I have with the media is clear double standards - I do not think Sanjay Dutt should have been acquitted - because people who 'helped' him have been sent to prison, but the media celebrated the man's acquittal, then again, this is my opinion not the law of the land.
Bombarded as we are with irrational and sometimes irresponsible journalism from all sides, it is difficult for a trial court judge to be objective, and judges fall prey to the lynch mob that is the media at times, but then again why is there this lynch mob in the first place?
I really believe that as usual, we are missing the point over here. There was a gross miscarriage of justice in both murders, I do not doubt that. But now that you have fixed that and now that we will end up hanging three men, no matter what people say - I'm a bit ambivalent about the death penalty - after all I've debated on either side during school and college level debates and that can explain a bit of it. It is the legal system here that needs prompt fixing - judges in this country - and I might be committing a crime by saying this - have ethical issues - I won't put it down in black or white what those ethical issues are, but once a judge, you become a judge for life. There is not system of checks and balances and judge can hold me in contempt just for writing this - but some very senior judges have said it too. The Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo and Nitish Katara cases are clear indications that we need to fix the legal system. Otherwise, we will spawn many, many more 'trials by media'.
EDIT : Manu doesn't hang, he only gets life and this is before the appeal in the SC. Vikas Yadav, the man accused of murdering Nitish Katara is going to be in jail anyway, and he just got four more years. But the decision by the court to pull up 'hostile' witnesses is tremendous, while I feel for Shyan Munshi, I'm sure the lad came under tremendous pressure, but the habit of witnesses going 'hostile' is endemic and resolving it should be part of the judicial reform process.