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Supreme Court To Become a Global Outlier? Here's How the Apex Court is Planning to Live Stream Proceedings

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

The draft rules made it clear that matrimonial matters, cases concerning sexual offences, cases concerning gender-based violence against women will be excluded from live-streaming.

The e-committee of the Supreme Court has released the Draft Model Rules for Live-Streaming and Recording of Court Proceedings which is aimed at bringing greater transparency, inclusivity and access to justice".

Which are the cases that will not be live-streamed?

The draft rules made it clear that matrimonial matters, including transfer petitions arising thereunder, cases concerning sexual offences, including proceedings instituted under Section 376 (rape) of Indian Penal Code, cases concerning gender-based violence against women among others will be excluded from live-streaming.

The final decision as to whether or not to allow the Live-streaming of the Proceedings or any portion thereof will be of the Bench, however, the decision of the Bench will be guided by the principle of an open and transparent judicial process. The decision of the Bench shall not be justiciable, an official release said.

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What is this going to look like?

The draft rules said that cameras will be installed in the courtroom covering at least five angles, one towards the Bench, the second and third towards the advocates engaged in the concerned matter, the fourth towards the accused (where applicable) and the fifth towards the deponent/witness, as required. In the event that the Court has employed an electronic evidence presentation system, an additional feed shall be captured therefrom.

A remote-control device shall be provided to the presiding judge on the Bench to pause or stop the Live-streaming at any time. Advocates, witnesses, accused, or any other person permitted by the Bench, shall use appropriate microphones while addressing the Court, the release said. The draft rules said that in order to decongest the court rooms, dedicated room(s) for viewing the Live- stream may be made available within the Court Premises.

How will this help?

The right to information, access to justice, the need to build the right perception, along with the need to educate common people on how the judiciary functions are all strong reasons in favour of allowing live-streaming of court proceedings. Add to this the need to avoid multiple versions or wrong projections of facts, or the menace of fake news or faulty reporting.

Has this been done before?

The Karnataka High Court has begun live-streaming court proceedings on a trial basis. The first live-stream was made available on the Karnataka High Court’s official YouTube page on May 31.

The bench was hearing final proceedings in two PIL petitions — one filed by Baithkol Bandaru Nirashritara Yantrika Dhoni Meenugarara Sahakara Sangha, an organisation opposing land acquisitions, and one by the Uttara Kannada District Fishermen Association.

The Allahabad High Court and the Madhya Pradesh High Court are also set to hear pleas by journalists who have asked permission for the live-streaming and live-reporting of proceedings.

How is this empowering?

The Indian legal system is built on the concept of open courts, which means that the proceedings are open to all members of the public, the reality is different. On any given day, only a handful of people can be physically present and are allowed in the courtroom.

The cardinal principle that, justice should not only be done, it should also be seen to be done, at the heart of the petition filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising, is on the brink of seeing light of day.

What other institutions practice this?

To promote transparency, live-streaming has been allowed for both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha proceedings since 2004. Similarly, the recording of videos in the highest courts in Canada and Australia, as well as in some international courts, most notably in the International Court of Justice, shows that this exercise is neither novel nor so difficult.

Are there objections to this?

A report in The Hindu said, judges have historically been reticent about live-streaming court hearings. While speaking to a university audience in April 2017, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts was asked to respond to a proposal for the live telecast of proceedings before the Supreme Court. He replied that while oral hearings are open to the public, they are designed for a specific purpose: to help judges reach good decisions. He argued that there is educational value of broadcasting court proceedings. But then, can judges be uninhibited in asking questions — even politically incorrect ones — which would enable them to improve the reasoning advanced in their judgments? He asserted that cameras would invite grandstanding on the part of lawyers and judges, as well as a tendency to play to the gallery.

What about other countries?

Cameras have been allowed in courts in many countries, but this typically occurs in trial and lower courts of appeal. The Canadian Supreme Court does allow the recording of its hearings, which are also available on its website. However, it is, at present, a global outlier among apex courts.

The Indian Supreme Court, too, may well be unique in terms of the cases it takes on, and the logistics involved in setting up cameras within it. The Canadian Supreme Court may well have successfully experimented with recording its hearings, but it had an average case load of 500-600 from 2006 to 2016. In each of these 10 years, it decided between 60 and 80 of these cases. The Constitutional Court of South Africa, where this measure has been proposed, decided an average of 20 cases in its first decade (1995-2005) and delivered 51 judgments in 2017. On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court on any given day is actually 12-13 panels of judges hearing cases simultaneously, and had more than 55,000 pending cases as of November 2017. It issues a far higher number of judgments than any comparable court.

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first published:June 08, 2021, 10:47 IST