India today made a beginning towards joining the list of countries to have live video streaming of court proceedings.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday, September 26, allowed live streaming of court proceedings in cases of constitutional importance and public interest that are heard in the court of the Chief Justice of India.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said that the public had a right to know what happens inside the courtroom. Holding that this would promote transparency in the judiciary, the top court said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
The apex court ruled that such an exercise will enhance transparency and allow common citizens and litigants who cannot be present in the courtroom to know, in real time, the exact developments that have taken place in cases of public interest.
Welcoming the court’s decision, senior advocate Indira Jaising, a petitioner in the case, called it ‘the biggest reform of the century’.
The SC bench said, “Rules have to be followed for this. Live streaming of court proceedings will bring accountability in the judicial system.”
Earlier in July, while hearing a bunch of petitions, Chief Justice Deepak Misra had said, “The concept of access to justice can be stretched through live streaming. Litigants are entitled to know how their cases are dealt with. Litigants will also know how his or her lawyer is presenting the case.”
The Chief Justice however, had a word of caution for sensitive rape trials or matrimonial cases. The court had also said live streaming of proceedings “will help students to learn.”
The verdict was passed on a batch of petitions, including those filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising, law student Swapnil Tripathi and NGO ‘Centre For Accountability and Systemic Change’ on the issue.
Jaising had sought live streaming of cases of national and constitutional importance that are heard in the court of the Chief Justice of India or by a Constitution Bench. She said citizens have the right to information and matters of constitutional and national importance can be live streamed. In western countries, she said, this system was in place and live streaming of court proceedings, including that of the International Court of Justice, are available on YouTube.
Tripathi on the other hand had challenged the bar imposed on law interns entering court rooms on miscellaneous days.
The government had backed the live streaming of trials and said it can be extended to other courts depending on the success of the pilot project.
The Centre has also suggested setting up of a media room where litigants, law interns, lawyers and other visitors can watch the live feed, saying that would help reduce the congestion in the courtroom and corridors. The affidavit also wants special measures to be put in place for differently-abled.
However, the Centre cautioned that the exercise must not be permitted in matrimonial cases, matters involving interests of juveniles or protection and safety of the private life of young offenders and cases involving national security.
Attorney General K K Venugopal said that in some situation, it will have to be disallowed to ensure privacy and security of victims, witnesses or defendants and also in rape cases and in matters where it may provoke communal sentiments.
The bench had asked Attorney General KK Venugopal to assist the court in deciding on the petitions. It had also directed Tripathi to submit suggestions to the Attorney General regarding creation of a live-streaming room in the apex court premises exclusively for law interns and law students.
On Wednesday, the bench gave two concurring verdicts, written by Justices Khanwilkar and Chandrachud respectively which allowed live streaming of the proceedings as demanded by the petitioners and directed the centre to frame necessary rules for the purpose.
It may be recalled that during the proceedings in the case, Attorney General KK Venugopal had informed the court that the Centre was in favour of live streaming of case proceedings except in cases related to rape, matrimonial disputes and those that concern sensitive issues that could adversely impact the parties in a case. Venugopal had also submitted a set of guidelines for implementing the pilot project in the Chief Justice’s Court for Constitutional cases.
During the course of the hearing, the Bench had agreed with the petitioners, stating at one point that live streaming “was the need of the hour” not only for decongesting the courtrooms, but also to fully implement the idea of an “open court”.
The issue of misreporting of court proceedings by the media had also been highlighted by the bench, particularly by Justice Chandrachud, who on Wednesday said in his concurring verdict that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and live-streaming would help in ensuring transparency.