Recently, the Supreme Court decided to live stream its proceedings in crucial Constitution Bench cases that will be heard from September 27. This decision came nearly four years after a plea was made in the interest of transparency.
- This year, on August 26, on the day of former Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana’s retirement, the Supreme Court streamed its proceedings live.
- But, in the Swapnil Tripathi judgment, in September 2018, the SC had cleared the deck for live streaming of cases of national and constitutional importance.
- In 20018, a three-judge Bench agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking live streaming of judicial proceedings.
- The court had issued notice to the then Attorney General of India K K Venugopal, seeking his views on the issue.
- After receiving the recommendation, the Supreme Court approved a set of guidelines, which included allowing transcripts and archiving the proceedings.
Recommended by Attorney General –
- Attorney General had recommended introducing live streaming as a pilot project in Court No.1, which is the CJI’s court, and only in Constitution Bench cases.
- However, the A-G suggested that the court must retain the power to withhold broadcasting, and to also not permit it in cases involving —
- Matrimonial matters,
- Matters involving interests of juveniles or the protection and safety of the private life of the young offenders,
- Matters of National security —
- To ensure that victims, witnesses or defendants can depose truthfully and without any fear.
- Special protection must be given to vulnerable or intimidated witnesses.
- It may provide for face distortion of the witness if she/he consents to the broadcast anonymously,
- To protect confidential or sensitive information, including all matters relating to sexual assault and rape,
- Matters where publicity would be antithetical (contrary) to the administration of justice, and
- Cases which may provoke sentiments and arouse passion and provoke enmity among communities.
Live streaming in High Courts –
- 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.
What happens elsewhere?
- USA —
- 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.
- Australia —
- Live or delayed broadcasting is allowed but the practices and norms differ across courts.
- Canada —
- Proceedings are broadcast live on Cable Parliamentary Affairs Channel, accompanied by explanations of each case and the overall processes and powers of the court.
- United Kingdom —
- In 2005, the law was amended to remove contempt of court charges for recording proceedings of the Supreme Court.
- Proceedings are broadcast live with a one-minute delay on the court’s website, but coverage can be withdrawn in sensitive appeals.
- Improves transparency —
- Broadcasting court proceedings is a step in the direction of transparency and greater access to the justice system.
- Improves legal literacy of masses —
- Live streaming the proceedings will not just increase legal literacy but potentially enhance the public’s continuous engagement with the Constitution and laws.
- Positive systemic corrections can be made —
- A research paper, which studied the audio proceedings of the US Supreme Court, found that judicial interactions at oral argument are highly gendered.
- Women were interrupted at disproportionate rates by their male colleagues, as well as by male advocates.
- Later, the gendered disruptions identified by the study was addressed.
- Now Justices ask questions according to seniority instead of interrupting in a random way.
- Irresponsible use of the content —
- Video clips of proceedings from Indian courts are already on YouTube and other social media platforms with sensational titles and little context.
- There are fears that irresponsible use of content could spread disinformation among the public.
- Impact on the behaviours of Justices —
- As 2018 research paper from Brazil concluded that justices behave like politicians when given free television time, they act to maximise their individual exposure.