Bombay HC Chief Justice Rebukes Reporters for Wearing Jeans

The SC recently rejected a PIL against writer Kancha Illaiah, upholding the fundamental right to free speech.

Ten journalists on Wednesday staged a walkout from Bombay High Court while a divisional bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice GS Kulkarni was hearing the matter of the doctors’ strike in Maharashtra. Senior court reporters present in the room say that Justice Chellur lost her cool and pulled up two male reporters for wearing T-shirts and jeans to court, asking if it was “Bombay culture”.

Several journalists took to Twitter immediately to voice their discontent about what they see as moral policing.

The Incident

During the hearing, Chief Justice Chellur brought up the matter of how the doctors’ strike was being reported in the media. In particular, she had strong objections to the fact that media outlets were publishing not only the court order, but also questions asked and observations made by the judges during the hearing – a practise as old as time in court reporting. Paraphrasing her, a senior reporter from Hindustan Times said Justice Chellur told the journalists that one must not write everything that happens during a hearing.

Continuing to express her indignation at journalists, she picked out two male reporters standing near the dais. One was wearing jeans with a T-shirt, while the other wore jeans with a shirt. Singling them out, Justice Chellur took exception to what they were wearing, asking if their dress code was worth appreciating and whether coming to court like that was “Bombay culture.”

She rhetorically directed the question towards BMC’s counsel, who replied it was not.

Following this, without saying a word, ten print and TV reporters staged a walkout from the hearing, venting their frustration on social media.

A’Dress’ing The Court

The Bombay High Court is a heritage building situated in Fort, and is open to all public without a pass. Many tourists frequent the building on a daily basis. According to senior reporters, the policemen who man the gates of the court, have been known to frequently disallow people, sometimes even tourists, if they’re wearing sleeveless tops or shorts. They exercise a discretionary power to prohibit someone from entering the court based on no written dress code guidelines by the Bombay High Court.

In 2015, for instance, a Hindustan Times reporter, Priya Pathiyan was not allowed to enter the court because she was wearing a sleeveless top. They backed up their decision with a 2011 notification, asking people to be dressed ‘decently’. Who decides what is decent or not is not mentioned, though the notice does specify that the rule was for litigants only.

The Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court are two instances where specific instructions have been issued to journalists for accreditation, including wearing “modest clothes and sober clothes”.

This is the first time a judge has exceeded her legal brief in this regard at the Bombay HC. The journalists are considering writing to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court about the incident.