Should Supreme Court proceedings be live-streamed?

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, only a handful of people can be physically present and are allowed in the courtroom.



FEB 16

Should Supreme Court proceedings be live-streamed?

Introduction

  • As Kautilya said in the Arthashastra, and during that time, when judges delivered a judgment, they did so in an open court. From then until now, the visual setting of the justice delivery mechanism hasn’t changed much.

  • While 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.

Why can’t?

  • Given the technological strides made in every possible field of work, the natural question is, why shouldn’t the legal system benefit from technology?
  • While the courts are now opting for digitisation, with online records of all cases, a provision for filing FIRs online, an automated system of case rotation, etc., there is still a need to push the bar much higher.
  • In the light of these technological advancements, why shouldn’t millions of people be allowed to watch the rich deliberations that transpire in the halls of justice? As they say, justice should not only be done, it should also be seen to be done. This cardinal principle is at the heart of the petition filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising.

Not all cases

  • First, note that live-streaming is neither called for in all types of matters nor in all courts. The emphasis is to make those matters that are of great public importance available for all to see.
  • Therefore, matters which have a privacy dimension, such as family matters or criminal matters, or matters with legal procedural intricacies, such as most trial court matters, are out of its scope.
  • But matters which have a bearing on important public interest issues such as entry of women to the Sabarimala temple, or the scope of the right to the choice of one’s food, or the constitutionality of the Aadhaar scheme, or the legality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, all of which are pending before the Supreme Court, should be available for all to watch.

Live streaming

  • Further, note that 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.

Reasons in favour of allowing live-streaming

  • 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, and you have a solid case for allowing live-streaming/recording of videos.

Objections are weak

  • Think of the technical glitches (which can be resolved with some effort and proper guidelines), fear of the court being reduced to a spectacle (why fear if the courts are supreme and the judges do their best in every case?), too much information (what does that even mean in a democracy?) and you see why the argument against live-streaming/recording is weak.
  • Lamenting the lack of infrastructure, an overburdened judiciary, or the difficulty in deciding how to implement this should not be rolled out as run-of-the-mill responses.

Conclusion

  • This petition presents the hope of new India, where technology promises to be the game changer if those in power understand its importance and use it right. It also presents a hope for the Indian legal system to finally deliver on its promise to empower the masses, not be scared of them.

Key points to remember :

  • Justice system during Ancient System – Kautilya – Arthashastra
  • Technological strides
  • Live-streaming and great public importance
  • Reasons in favour of live-streaming