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Streaming of high court proceedings widens judicial accountability

With six high courts streaming recorded proceedings on their YouTube channels and the apex court considering live coverage, hearings are acquiring a new hue.

August 30, 2022 / 03:06 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image


In a period when critics claim the executive and the legislature are becoming opaque, the judiciary in India is showing the way. There’s been a quantum leap in the way the public can view the functioning of the higher courts of the country.

For many decades now, reporting court proceedings was considered sacrosanct and could invite infringement of the contempt law. In high-profile cases, media illustrators would carefully draw imaginary courtroom scenes with due disclaimers clarifying that they were taking artistic licence and it should be treated in that spirit.

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Social media changed all that. The high courts have now begun streaming the recorded proceedings of their hearings. Livestreaming could well be on the way.

Currently, the high courts in six states – Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Patna, and Madhya Pradesh – stream their proceedings on their YouTube channels. The content is vetted and posted, usually within three days of the conclusion of proceedings.

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All proceedings are telecast, except for cases related to matrimonial disputes, gender-based violence, those involving minors, and cases that, in the opinion of the bench, may provoke enmity among communities.

 

More transparency

“I wouldn’t mind if proceedings in my court were telecast live. It is a sign of transparency,” former Supreme Court judge Anil R Dave told Moneycontrol.

Mukul Rohatgi, former attorney general of India, concurred.

“It is a sign of growing transparency in judicial proceedings. I believe the high courts should stream it live, like parliament,” he told Moneycontrol. “Why leave it to Live Law?”

Live Law is a legal news portal.

The telecast is done in accordance with the Supreme Court’s e-committee’s model guidelines, a set of directions aimed at regulating the streaming of court proceedings in India.

Scenes that could not have been visualised not so long ago are now being watched by a social media-loving public. The sight of high court judges directing their ire at top officials is reaching the common people.

In a September 2018 judgment, a three-judge bench headed by then chief justice of India Dipak Misra approved the streaming of court proceedings, saying it would bring more accountability and enhance the rule of law, and declared it a part of the right to access justice under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s e-committee is headed by Justice DY Chandrachud of the apex court.

This e-committee, in draft rules for livestreaming and recording court proceedings last week, proposed a 10-minute delay in transmission and exclusion of communally sensitive cases and matters involving sexual offences and violence against women.

The rules intend to balance access to information and concerns of privacy and confidentiality. Personal information such as date of birth, home address, identity card number, and bank account information of the parties and related parties such as close relatives, witnesses, and other participants will be deleted or muted during livestreaming.

Cameras would be positioned to cover five angles: the bench, lawyers on both sides, the accused and the witnesses. A remote-control device would be provided to the presiding judge to pause or stop the livestream at any time, according to the proposed rules.

The switchover by the courts to virtual hearings because of the Covid pandemic may have been the prelude to the trend has now caught on.

 

High court channels

The Gujarat high court launched its YouTube channel in July 2021. The Madhya Pradesh high court began showing its court proceedings in June 2021 and others followed suit: Odisha in August 2021; Jharkhand in December 2021 and Patna in December 2021. All the channels have several thousand subscribers.

In January, the Karnataka high court started its YouTube channel and began to hear petitions challenging the state government’s ban on hijab in educational institutions.

Former Supreme Court judge Jasti Chelameswar favours the expansion of livestreaming proceedings to other high courts as well. “If you have one country and one law, then why confine it to a few high courts, particularly given the fact that courts are in any case public hearings which anyone can come and attend,” he told Moneycontrol.

As to the charge that livestreaming could lead to more on-court theatricality, Chelameswar said it could produce the opposite effect as well.“Some judges would be very aware that the camera is on them,” he said.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
first published: Aug 30, 2022 03:03 pm
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