From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Open Courts, Art. 142
Mains level : Transparency in judicial functioning
The Supreme Court has invoked its extraordinary Constitutional powers under Article 142 to step away from the convention of open court hearings. It deemed all restrictions imposed on people from entering, attending or taking part in court hearings as lawful in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are Open Courts?
- The Open court principle requires that court proceedings presumptively be open and accessible to the public and to the media.
- Open courts are normal court where proceedings of the court are conducted where every person is allowed to watch the proceedings of the court.
- There are instances where it is not practical to accommodate persons other than parties to the proceedings. Therefore, such proceedings are held in camera.
- This means that the proceedings are held in a closed room where the public will not have access to watch the proceedings.
- In criminal cases like rape, it is necessary to protect the identity and modesty of the victim.
Why did the Supreme Court deter Open Court’s norm?
- A Bench led by CJI said these restrictions were in tune with the social distancing norms and best public health practices advocated to contain the contagion.
- The court made it clear that public health takes precedence over conventions.
- Every individual and institution is expected to cooperate in the implementation of measures designed to reduce the transmission of the virus.
- Open court hearings would mean a congregation of large number of people. This would prove detrimental to the fight against the virus.
- Access to justice is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India.
- The challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have to be addressed while preserving the constitutional commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to justice to those who seek it..
- Indian courts have been proactive in embracing advancement in technology in judicial proceedings.
- Judiciary can bank on video-conferencing technologies in the wake of this unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic.
Article 142 of the Indian Constitution
- Article 142 allows the Supreme Court to pass any order necessary to do “complete justice” in any case.
- It supplements the powers already conferred upon the Supreme Court under the Constitution to guarantee that justice is done and in doing so the Court is not restrained by lack of jurisdiction or authority of law.
- The phrase ‘complete justice’ engrafted in Article 142(1) is the word of wide interpretation to meet situations created by legal errors or result of operation of statute law or law.
- Thus Article 142 is conceived to give the apex court the powers to meet the situations which cannot be effectively tackled by existing provisions of law.