All well-informed citizens are aware that they should support the administration of justice by attending the courts and giving evidence when duly summoned. In our country this is implicit in the scheme of the Indian Evidence Act, 1972.
The duty to testify at judicial proceedings has been recognised early in the development of English Law. Even the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. has acknowledged it.
However, there also exists a conflicting duty for the journalists, which requires the source of their information to remain undisclosed, at least when it is supplied in confidence.
If we examine the issue further, we find that the conflict is neither between lawyers and journalists, nor between newspapers and courts, but between courts and news reporters. Both believe themselves to be dedicated to one object, “discovering the truth.”
It is as agonizing for a judge to have relevant information withheld from him, on a plea of crown privilege, as it is for the reporter to find facts, painfully elicited by him on a promise of secrecy, ruthlessly laid bare in a court.
While there are different types of “privileges,” in the field of evidence, a privilege is said to exist when “one is not obliged to answer particular questions or to produce particular documents.” Evidentiary privilege has a long history.
During the Roman Empire, neither advocates, nor physicians were allowed to testify during trials of former clients. Clergymen were also not compelled to appear in courts because of the high social status enjoyed by them.
This practice was adopted by Anglo-Saxon England, continuing till the late eighteenth century. After that, the only privileged relationship that became a part of the English common law and continues till today, is the professional relationship between the attorneys and their clients.