Insights into Editorial: Should Supreme Court proceedings be live-streamed?

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Insights into Editorial: Should Supreme Court proceedings be live-streamed?


Context:

Senior Advocate has filed a petition in the Supreme Court that seeks to live stream the Supreme Court hearings of cases/proceedings of matters of constitutional and national importance that impact the public at large.

This petition, filed under Article 32 of the Constitution aims to further the principle of access to courts, and particularly in advancement of right to information and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

The petition refers to the proceedings from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha being recorded in both audio and video and since 2004 these proceedings have also been telecasted on their respective television channels.

What is the basis to the petition filed?

The Supreme Court of India today deals with issues such as clean air, environmental pollution, safe drinking water, drunken driving, and firecracker ban. It also deals with issues such as challenge to Aadhaar, challenge to Section 377, Triple Talaq etc.

  • Citizens have a right to know what arguments are made and the responses of the judges as their judgements bind us all.
  • Petition contends that this would be in continuance of the principle that justice should not only be done but seen to be done.
  • Live steaming would empower, and provide access to citizens who cannot personally come to court due to social, economic, health, or physical disability related constraints
  • It would enable citizens to have first-hand information of case proceedings on issues of constitutional importance that affect them directly or indirectly.
  • It would help citizens understand how judgments and orders that impact them are arrived at.
  • Earlier, SC considered it desirable for CCTV cameras to be installed in all subordinate courts.
  • Most other constitutional courts live stream their proceedings. Petitioner cites the example of us being able to see the proceedings before the International Court of Justice in the case concerning former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was sentenced to death by a Pakistani Military Court.

Telecasting the proceedings of LS and RS facilitate the citizens understanding of governance and functioning of democracy among the masses. In the same way, Live streaming of cases of national importance would also inspire public confidence in the judiciary.

Can Judiciary Live stream all the cases?

Live-streaming is neither called for in all types of matters nor in all courts. 

Live streaming or videography could be avoided in the matters which have a privacy dimension, such as family matters or criminal matters.

The emphasis is to make those matters that are of great public importance available for all to see.

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, could be available for all to watch.

What are issues associated with Live-streaming of court proceedings?

Critics against the petition say that the role of the judiciary cannot be equated with the roles of the legislature and the executive and Judges are accountable only to the rule of law and to the Constitution, as established by law.

There are few practical issues with the live streaming of court proceedings.

  • Unwanted public gaze caused by live-streaming will tend to make judges subject to popular public opinion.
  • The individuality of judges is more likely to become a subject of public debate through live-streaming, creating problems of its own. 
  • There is a greater likelihood of lawyers aspiring to publicise themselves through their addresses to the Bench.
  • Live-streaming will do away with the medium of responsible reporting by those lawyers and journalists who are experts in the field.
  • It will affect the normalcy of the proceedings.
  • Indian Supreme Court may be unique in terms of the cases it takes on, and the logistics involved in setting up cameras within it.
  • 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.
  • SC issues a far higher number of judgments than any comparable court.

Lawyers and judges before the Supreme Court tend to rely extensively on an ‘oral’ culture where much less emphasis is placed on written briefs. Lawyers in India get more time to argue their cases than in any other jurisdiction.

Given these practical issues, televising the proceedings may run the risk of adversely affecting court proceedings.

What must be done in our Judiciary before going for televising its proceedings?

There has to be a greater reliance on written briefs and the significance accorded to them, time limits for oral arguments, and a greater emphasis on preparation in advance.

Audio and video recordings of court proceedings would reform the administration of justice. These can be used at the time of review or appeal of a case

The Supreme Court had already passed an order in Pradyuman Bisht v. Union of India (2017) directing all High Courts to ensure CCTVs and audio and video recordings in subordinate courts.

This order should be extended to the Supreme Court and High Courts, and a copy of the recordings may be made available to the parties concerned and to the general public under the Right to Information Act.