In a country where the process of getting justice from courts is usually defined by its complexities, slow pace and high costs, the idea of any progressive reform that can ease the process for litigants needs to be welcomed with open arms. And if the nudge comes from none other than the Supreme Court, the effects can be game-changing.
A few days ago, India’s top court did just that. Hearing a petition on allowing video recording and live streaming of court proceedings, the Supreme Court told the Centre that it is willing and would like the Centre to suggest how it can be taken forward. The stand of the Supreme Court in bringing about what would be a landmark change once implemented has been lauded by one and all.
India’s top jurists believe that live streaming of court proceedings will go a long way in affirming people’s faith in the judicial system and ensuring transparency in day-to-day happenings in matters of importance.
On Monday, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud said live-streaming of court proceedings is just an extension of the ‘open court’ system, and that the live telecast of court proceedings will benefit litigants, law students, and the public.
While the litigants will be able to witness the proceedings live and also evaluate the performance of the lawyers, it will also spare people in distant areas the trouble of having to travel all the way to Delhi attend proceedings, the SC observed.
Sanctity of court
The top court’s stand on the issue is a positive sign and its implementation will be be a landmark example that the top court will set, two former judges have said. “The so-called secrecy in judicial proceedings should be done away with. The court proceedings, though being reported, are not known clearly. What clearly transpires in the court hall is not known. There may be matters that require secrecy, that can be dealt with. But it must not act as an excuse against bringing transparency. How a judge or lawyer performs, should be visible to everybody,” former Supreme Court judge and ex-Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde told FinancialExpress.com.
The matter came before the top court when senior advocate in the Supreme Court Indira Jaising filed a public interest petition in the apex court to live stream and video record cases of national interest.
“This would be in furtherance of the principle that justice should not only be done but seen to be done, and empower, and provide access to citizens who cannot personally come to court due to social, economic, health, or physical disability related constraints though the decision of the court will impact them. The provision of live streaming or video recording would enable them to have first-hand information of case proceedings on issues of constitutional importance that affect them directly or indirectly,” Jaising’s petition read.
Indira Jaising’s petition deals with two issues – live streaming and recording of proceedings. Former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and ex-chairman of the Law Commission, AP Shah, says allowing recording of proceedings itself will bring huge benefits in preserving the sanctity of the court. “That is paramount. Nobody will dare to misbehave in court, everybody will be in control, all stakeholders,” he told FinancialExpress.com.
At the hearing in Supreme Court, Attorney-General KK Venugopal proposed that a dedicated channel could be set up on the lines of the Rajya Sabha TV and the Lok Sabha TV for the Supreme Court. Petitioner Indira Jaising, however, cautioned that agreements with broadcasters for the live streaming should purely be non-commercial. The court has asked the Centre to address these concerns.
While clarity is expected on the issue when the matter comes up for hearing before the court on July 23, there have been concerns that the move could lead to concerns of privacy and even witness protection. The Centre has argued that cases related to marriage disputes, crimes against women and national security should not be recorded or telecast. Some experts have also pointed to the privacy issue.
“There should be clear guidelines and the decision on whether to live stream the proceedings or not should be decided by the presiding officer of the day. The presiding officer should also not arbitrarily allow or refuse this. There should be a good reason behind the decision either way,” Justice Hegde says, adding that the Centre’s proposal is good and should interest people who are keen on knowing what is happening in court.
According to Justice Shah, the move will fulfill different objectives, transparency being the primary among them. “Everything that takes place in the court will be recorded. If there is any dispute on what transpired in court or whether a particular argument was made or not, the record will always be there to refer to.”
“Take a particular case which is being heard by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. People will be interested in watching that,” he said, adding that he had made a similar proposal to the government as head of law Commission which the then Law minister under the UPA government had agreed to.
What Indira Jaising’s petition says
“Live streaming of cases of national importance would also inspire public confidence in the judiciary, and bring transparency, and accountability in the administration of justice. Further, this would avoid the spread of misinformation, conscious disinformation, and misunderstanding of the role of the Court in these matters.”
“Apex Courts of many common law countries, and international forums, such as United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, European Court of Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, have devised differing means for recording, broadcasting, or live streaming their proceedings for the public.”
“The live streaming of such proceedings would be in consonance with the principle of open court established under Article 145(4), and in furtherance of fundamental right of access to justice under Article 19(1)(a).”