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‘THE JURY IS OUT’ – LIVE STREAMING OF COURT PROCEEDINGS

INTRODUCTION

The 21st century enunciating the rollout of streaming technologies and the racing mobile broadband services has broadened the scope of legal parlance bringing the procedural aspect of the courts into the public discourse. 27th September was the red-letter day as the Supreme Court of India inducted the process of Live Streaming of three Constitutional Benches through Youtube in Courtroom No.’s 1,2, and 3 and statistics indicate that more than 8 lakh viewers watched the courtroom proceedings[1].

 Jeremy Bentham in his ‘Draught of Code for the Organisation of Judicial Establishment’ once remarked,

Publicity is the very soul of Justice. It is only through publicity that justice becomes the mother of security. In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have full swing. ’’[2]

Henceforth, Bentham concluded by giving wider access to justice through publicity and the same has been brought into the limelight by the recent installation of live streaming of the Supreme Court proceedings. This is no less than a watershed moment in the legal world which would not only lead to the future contours of public scrutiny but also expand the wide branch of legal awareness. 

Open Justice has been considered the chief hallmark of the common law system of justice and an integral characteristic of the exercise of chief judicial power. Hale, Blackstone, and Bentham all emphasized the importance of oral evidence, submissions, and rulings in open courts. The principle of open justice was formulated by Lord Hewart in his words,” Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.’’[3]  The development of the openness principle came from the idea of physical attendance at the courtrooms and this is even corroborated by the presence of media persons, law interns, etc at the courtrooms these days. Also, this system has been an age-old English principle institutionalized by the Supreme Court in a more advanced way.

SC JUDGMENT AND CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

The recent paradigm was not a one-day process rather it was a prolonged stretch of four years after the landmark judgment of Swapnil Tripathi vs Supreme Court of India, 2018 where the 3-judge bench of the apex court headed by J. Deepak Mishra observed that the live streaming of court proceedings in the prescribed digital format would be an affirmation of the constitutional rights bestowed upon the public and litigants in particular[4]. This was a response to a petition filed by Fourth-year law student Swapnil Tripathi who challenged the rule of disallowing interns on Mondays and Fridays in courtrooms when new cases were to be heard. J. Mishra remarked,

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Live streaming as an extension of open courts will ensure the interface between a court hearing with virtual reality will result in the dissemination of information in the widest possible sense imparting transparency and accountability to the judicial process.’’[5]

Various Constitutional provisions impliedly confer upon the same. Article 145(4) Of the Indian Constitution states that the pronouncements of judgments will take place in open courts.[6] Section 327 of CRPC, 1973 states that the criminal trial will happen in the open court to which the public, in general, has access unless the presiding judge or Magistrate feels to restrain[7]. Even Section 153B of CPC, 1908 governs the same for a civil suit with the same limitation[8]. Hence, the constitution may provide an indirect reference to open justice while this principle has been explicitly laid down in the two sections. Since web telecasting is another modicum of open justice, that’s why there are constitutional provisions that support it in an implied way.

LINE OF DEFENSE

Since live streaming is done in favor of the public interest, certain limits were imposed. No publication of sensitive matters like matrimonial, sexual offenses, and matters concerning the national interest and some commercial disputes. Apart from this, such proceedings should be published by the agency authorized under the guidance of CJI and the embellished rules. The rights of copyrights must be vested in the name of the Supreme Court and not serve commercial interests. Also, provisions will be laid down for archiving the recorded sessions. Structured guidelines were laid down concerning the manner, technical specifications, and other intricacies of live streaming.

THE TRUMP CARDS

The emergence of courts into the public gallery will expand the meaning of the open court principle as the raison d’etre of open justice is served when people get an accurate and precise description of the cases. The people will get access to the cases unfurling before the courts and the concept of justice would now lie at your doorstep strengthening Article 21[9] at the same time. Secondly, the reach of legal jurisprudence would penetrate the grassroots level making a common man conscious not only of his rights, duties, and the measures adopted by the courts of the country but also of the evolution of law with the changing times.

As the public is entitled to witness the proceedings concerned with matters affecting its interest at large thereby fulfilling the right to information along the same lines. Hence this landmark step would expand the vista of the courtrooms breaking and going beyond the four walls of the justice hall and the principle of transparency, and accountability would be implemented in letter and spirit. Additionally, giving first-hand experience and practical exposure to lawyers and law students would inspire them toward litigation as most law students want to step into the line of corporate practice. Not only this, the interactions between the adjudicating judge and the lawyers would provide food for thought to the law interns as well as acquainting them with the process of formation and articulation of arguments.

 If the practice of open justice is hindered by the fact that most people couldn’t attend it due to constraints like poverty, distance and cost, then live streaming can act as the icing on the cake. The live streaming will also scuttle across the misconceptions built around the court procedure and lead to more awareness. Another feature of this aspect would be strengthening the principle of rule of law, marking another milestone in a vibrant democracy. The lawyers and the judges who were just conscious of the physical setup would now have to bring the attitudinal changes. Henceforth, another virtual space for the administration of justice would be created enhancing the efficacy of the system.

PLUGGING THE LOOPHOLES

While this system of live streaming has been adopted by some common law nations and even in India, some of the High courts have already rolled out the telecast however certain boundaries need to be set in place so that the recent actions taken like the unauthorized way of uploading the court proceedings as there have been instances where the court proceedings in small clips have been uploaded without proper context leading to spread of misinformation defeating the very purpose. This has led to media sensationalism. Also, judges and lawyers have fallen prey to public remarks and attacks. They view the courtroom through a public spectacle. This is not a good thing as it leads to building up pressure inside the court wherein Judges can’t completely examine the fact and the scenario. This is precarious in situations when the opinions of judges are taken in incorrectly and out of context way. This needs to be corrected. Also, there should be regulations on uploading titles and designations so that there is no misconception.

CONCLUSION

As already highlighted above, the concept of the open court equally includes access to virtual space, and broadcasting the courtroom scenarios is a step towards ensuring justice, transparency, and accountability. The emergence of technology is not just confined to live streaming as the e-committee of the supreme court has come up with various digitization efforts like the implementation of the e-court project, the introduction of SUPACE, etc. In light of the same, the Supreme Court is planning to come up with a single national platform as remarked by Chief Justice D.Y Chandrachud[10]. Secondly, this national infrastructure will bring the technology to district courts beginning the change from the grassroots level. Also, archiving the court proceedings can be another step towards the spread of legal awareness as these could be accessed easily by the ‘bonafide’ people. So, finally, the digitization of Indian courts has seen the light of day.

Author(s) Name: Dhawni Sharda (National Law University Odisha, Cuttack)

References:

[1]‘8 lakh viewers for Supreme Court first ever live streaming session’ (Onmanorama, 28 September 2022) <https://www.onmanorama.com/news/india/2022/09/28/supreme-court-live-streaming-session-8-lakh-views.html> accessed 03 December 2022.

[2] Ernst Willheim,  Aspects of Citizen Access to Court Archives (ANU Press 2019) 49.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Swapnil Tripathi v Supreme Court of India (2018) 10 SCC 639.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art 145.

[7] Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 327.

[8] Code of Civil Procedure 1908, s 153B.

[9] Constitution Of India 1950, art 21.

[10] Krishnadas Rajgopal, ‘Working on a single platform , national model for live streaming in all courts, J. Chandrachud’ (The Hindu, 03 November 2022) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/working-on-a-single-platform-and-national-model-for-live-streaming-in-all-courts-j-chandrachud/article66090214.ece> accessed 03 December 2022.