Welcome judicial transparency
As the winds of change blow through the corridors of the Apex Court, petitions seeking live streaming of court proceedings are finally being heard.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a bunch of petitions filed by lawyers and organisations seeking the live streaming and recording of the proceedings of the Apex Court, thereby pushing for greater transparency in judicial proceedings as well as raising public awareness on important questions of Constitutional law being heard by the Court. One of the petitions has been filed by Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate, in her own name, wherein she has sought directions including that the Supreme Court case proceedings of 'Constitutional and national importance' having an impact on the public at large be live-streamed in a manner accessible to the public; and, pressed the Supreme Court to frame guidelines for determining the cases that qualify for live streaming, amongst others. She also gave examples of cases having Constitutional and national importance, i.e., the Constitutional challenge to the Aadhaar Act, Section 377, IPC, offence of adultery, and the entry of women to Sabarimala temple.
The petition argues that "the live streaming and videography of the proceedings of the Supreme Court in matters of great public importance would be in keeping with the principle of open access to justice and will ensure justice is not only done but it is seen to be done." At the same time, it recognises that if counter-vailing interests exist, say in family law and in criminal cases or in the interest of witnesses in criminal matters, then restrictions on live streaming and/or recording of proceedings can be imposed. It further states that "such an exercise would inspire confidence in the functioning of the judiciary as an institution and help in maintaining the respect that it deserves as a co-equal organ of the State."
It may be noted that similar petitions were filed in the Bombay High Court in 2016, wherein the High Court denied the prayer of court proceedings being live-streamed. An appeal filed against the High Court judgment was also dismissed. However, petitions were filed in the Supreme Court seeking similar relief that are currently pending. The Apex Court asked the Attorney General of India, KK Venugopal, to address the Court on this issue, who then sought four weeks time to respond and file a counter-affidavit.
The issue of live-streaming or telecasting of court proceedings has engaged public attention for some time now, but the mode of doing that is yet to be decided. It is definitely true that if court proceedings are live-streamed or telecasted, then the common public would have a better idea of what happens when deliberating important Constitutional matters, which affect all citizens. There will also be greater awareness, similar to Parliamentary proceedings. At a time when the legitimacy of the Judiciary, especially that of the Apex Court, has been clouded in the public eye, and the faith in the administration of justice is evidently quite shaken, owing to a plethora of factors, including the Executive bulldozing of judicial appointments – live telecasting of court proceedings can mend the divide between the courts and the people.
The adage of 'justice not only to be done but also seen to be done' is nowhere truer than in cases of public importance where the parties must feel that they were given a fair hearing and their submissions were duly recorded. Live telecasting of judicial proceedings would cast an obligation on the courts to conduct the proceedings in a fair and just manner, and not just hear the 'senior advocates'. Though the Courts, including the Apex Court, would like to believe that they hear all counsels properly, and the distinction between junior and senior counsels is only on paper and only for complex Constitutional issues, any lawyer worth their salt would say that the legal profession is one of the most hierarchical ones. Any attempt to make the system fairer ought to be welcome with open arms, besides trying to break the nexus of the 'old boys' club'. This is also in line with the recent decision of the Supreme Court to publish the minutes of the Supreme Court Collegium deliberations, which indicate how the senior most judges decide the question of judicial appointments.
Whatever may be the outcome of these petitions or the directions given by the Supreme Court, one thing is crystal clear that the winds of change towards greater transparency and accountability in judicial proceedings are blowing in the imposing corridors of the highest court of this country. One only hopes that the same zeal is shown in how matters are allocated and heard by the different benches of this Court, or in the cases where the Executive is trying to encroach upon Judicial independence. There is no point in live-streaming cases if the integrity of the Supreme Court is hollowed out.
(The author is an Attorney. The views expressed are strictly personal)