Judicial Reforms

Live Streaming of SC proceedings: the rationale and the concerns

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Live streaming of courts proceedings

From September 27 onward, all proceedings of Supreme Court Constitution Benches will be live-streamed, a full court meeting of the top court has decided.

Background of the move

  • History was made on August 26 (2022) when the proceedings from the Chief Justice’s Court in the Supreme Court (SC) were live streamed.
  • In the ‘Swapnil Tripathi’ judgment, in September 2018, the SC had cleared the deck for live streaming of cases of national and constitutional importance.

Immediate triggers for live streaming

  • They had agreed to hear a public interest litigation seeking live streaming of judicial proceedings on matters of constitutional and national importance.
  • Prime considerations cited are:
  1. De-congestion of courts and
  2. Improving physical access to courts for litigants who have to otherwise travel long distances

Recommended by A-G

  • The Supreme Court approved a set of guidelines suggested by the A-G, which included allowing transcripts and archiving the proceedings.
  • However, the A-G suggested that the court must retain the power to withhold broadcasting, and to also NOT permit it in cases involving:
  1. Matrimonial matters,
  2. Matters involving interests of juveniles or the protection and safety of the private life of the young offenders,
  3. Matters of National security,
  4. To ensure that victims, witnesses or defendants can depose truthfully and without any fear.
  5. To protect confidential or sensitive information, including all matters relating to sexual assault and rape,
  6. Matters where publicity would be antithetical to the administration of justice, and
  7. Cases which may provoke sentiments and arouse passion and provoke enmity among communities.

Live streaming in HCs

  • Following the SC’s decision, Gujarat High Court began live streaming its proceedings in July 2021.
  • Currently, the Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Patna High Courts live stream their proceedings.
  • Allahabad High Court is learnt to be considering doing the same.

Global examples of live streaming

  • United States of America: While the US Supreme Court has rejected pleas for broadcast of its proceedings, it has since 1955 allowed audio recording and transcripts of oral arguments.
  • United Kingdom: In 2005, the law was amended to remove contempt of court charges for recording proceedings of the Supreme Court.

Why need live streaming of court?

  • Improved accountability: Live-streaming of court proceedings would serve as an instrument for greater accountability and formed part of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  • Living up the expectation of Constitution: Live Streaming of Court proceedings is manifested in public interest. Public interest has always been preserved through the Constitution article 19 and 21
  • Empowering the masses: It will enable the legal system to deliver on its promise of empowering the masses.
  • More transparency: It will encourage the principle of open court and reduce dependence on second-hand views. It will effectuate the public’s right to know.
  • This would inspire confidence in the functioning of the judiciary as an institution and help maintain the respect that it deserved as a co-equal organ of the state.
  • Academic help: Live streaming may also be a help for academic purposes.

Concerns around live streaming

  • Contempt of court: Video clips of proceedings from Indian courts are already on YouTube and other social media platforms with sensational titles and little context, such as “HIGH COURT super angry on army officer”.
  • Disinformation and sensationalism: There are fears that irresponsible or motivated use of content could spread disinformation among the public.
  • Unnecessary activism: With the advent of social media, every citizen became a potential journalist. Study shows that justices behave like politicians when given free television time, they act to maximize their individual exposure.

Issues to judicial functioning

  • Decency of questions: During hearings judges may not ask questions or make comments that could be perceived as unpopular.
  • Triggers for oral observations: There is an increasing trend of oral observations of the court, which are not binding on parties replacing reasoned judgment and orders that are consequential.
  • Dignity of court may be compromised: Similarly, lawyers, aware of their new audience, may choose to grandstand and play to the gallery, especially in a case they expect to lose.

Way forward

  • Selective broadcast: The solution may lie in carefully determining how the live streaming proceeds.
  • Careful selection of cases: Not uploading archived stream on the SC website until it is legally/technologically possible to ensure that such videos cannot be spliced.
  • Understanding public perception and sentiments: Other similar measures that reflect an understanding of how the public consumes (dis)information will ensure that live streaming enriches constitutionalism across the country.

Conclusion

  • A hasty and wholesale introduction on the other hand is likely to land the SC right in the middle of the majoritarian and toxic information swamp that prevails in the country.

 

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