Live Streaming of Court Proceedings
2022 OCT 12
Polity > Judiciary > Judicial System
- In a first, three separate Constitution Bench proceedings in the Supreme Court were simultaneously beamed live through YouTube on September 27, 2022.
MORE ON NEWS:
- A Full Court meeting of apex court judges on September 20, 2022 had resolved to livestream Constitution Bench hearings from September 27.
- Supreme Court is likely to use a dedicated platform for live-streaming the hearings in the long-term.
- The trigger came with a recent letter from senior advocate Indira Jaising to livestream important case hearings, especially those being heard by Constitution Benches.
- Four years ago on the same day, September 27, 2018, the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had delivered the landmark judgement on the live telecast or webcast of important proceedings in matters of constitutional importance, saying “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
- 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.
WHY SHOULD COURT PROCEEDINGS BE LIVE STREAMED?
- Enhance the public’s engagement with the Constitution and laws:
- Live streaming of SC cases of constitutional or national importance is a progressive step as such cases impact various aspects of people’s lives. For example, issues such as entry of women to the Sabarimala temple, or the constitutionality of the Aadhaar scheme etc.
- Therefore, people's ability to participate in this conversation by watching these proceedings will not only increase legal literacy but also potentially enhance the public’s continuous engagement with the Constitution and laws.
- Also, live streaming upholds the cardinal principle of justice: that justice should not only be done, it should also be seen to be done.
- Avoids the menace of fake news or faulty reporting:
- Allowing live-streaming or recording of videos of court proceedings would avoid multiple versions or wrong projections of court rulings or the menace of fake news or faulty reporting.
- Decongestion of courts and improving access to courts:
- Live streaming would allow decongestion of courts.
- It improves access to courts for litigants who have to otherwise travel long distances to come to the SC.
- Also, live streaming would ensure access to justice even during contingencies like COVID-19.
- Will bring discipline and improve court proceedings:
- Live streaming will bring discipline and improve how judges and lawyers conduct the proceedings, as they will be aware that the public is watching.
- The method is already in use:
- To promote transparency, live-streaming has been allowed for both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha proceedings since 2004.
- Also, the recording of videos in the highest courts in Canada and Australia, as well as in some international courts like the International Court of Justice, shows that this exercise is neither novel nor so difficult.
- United States of America: The US Supreme Court has since 1955 allowed audio recordings and transcripts of oral arguments.
- Australia: Live or delayed broadcasting is allowed but the practices and norms differ across courts.
- Brazil: Since 2002, live video and audio broadcast of court proceedings, including the deliberations and voting process undertaken by the judges in court, is allowed.
- 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.
- South Africa: Since 2017, the Supreme Court of South Africa has allowed the media to broadcast court proceedings in criminal matters, as an extension of the right to freedom of expression.
- 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.
- May affect genuine courtroom engagement:
- An argument before a court is a comprehensive process and needs to be viewed as a whole, and not through individual questions or comments in this process.
- If portions of the proceedings can be circulated in short, misleading capsules on social media, judges and lawyers alike may self-censor during live-streamed proceedings. That will have the undesirable effect of sanitising the oral proceedings and preventing genuine courtroom engagement.
- Spread of disinformation among the public:
- Video clips of Indian court proceedings with sensational titles and little context, such as "HIGH COURT super angry on army officer," are already available on YouTube and other social media platforms.
- There are fears that this type of irresponsible or motivated use of content could spread disinformation among the public.
- More focus on the oral process than the final verdict:
- 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.
- Live streaming may accentuate this trend, with the reportage being focused on the oral process, rather than the final verdict.
- May demonise the judges and lawyers:
- Videos are shared through social media platforms which take a clip of a few seconds from a question or observation by a judge or lawyer and make propaganda videos, often demonising the professional.
- Requires reasonable expertise to understood debates inside courts:
- Debates inside a courtroom, especially before Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court, require reasonable expertise to be understood. The debate is not like the television debates that most people are familiar with.
- Live-streaming will do away with the medium of responsible reporting by those lawyers and journalists who are experts in the field.
- No assurance of discipline and improvement in proceedings:
- An argument in favour of live streaming is that it will bring discipline and improve how judges and lawyers conduct the proceedings, as they are aware that the public is watching.
- This is indeed possible, but the happenings in Parliament despite live streaming show that the exact opposite may also happen.
Live streaming of cases of constitutional and national importance, having an impact on the public at large, will empower and provide access to citizens who cannot personally come to the court due to socio-economic constraints. At the same time, the apex court may place restrictions on such videography and live streaming of proceedings in cases where there are matters involving juveniles or the protection and safety of the private life of the young offenders, matters of national security, matters where publicity would be antithetical to the administration of justice etc.
Q. “Broadcasting court proceedings is a step in the direction of transparency and greater access to the justice system, but there are concerns around the impact of live streaming both on judges and the people watching the proceedings”. Discuss.