During the publication of my book ‘My Journey with Law and Justice’ in January of this year, Supreme Court Justice Dr. DYChandrachud said: “Justice appears to be done only when court proceedings are open to the public. “. Speaking at length in live streaming of court proceedings, Judge Chandrachud said a judge must be judged not only by the number of sentences handed down or the rate of disposal. When a judge starts hearing a case, he has to do it with an open mind. Unrestrained by his prejudices. It is imperative that justice be done. It should also look done. Justice appears to be done only when judicial proceedings are open to the public.
The issue of live streaming was raised before the apex court in Swapnil Tripathi vs. Supreme Court of India (2018) via a public interest petition from a student, eager to follow court proceedings. It was practically not feasible due to the space to sit in the courtyard, as well as due to safety and time constraints. There were other petitions from people of public spirit. Being a matter of constitutional and national importance, the matter was heard by a panel of three judges, namely, CJI Dipak Misra and judges AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, who argued for the need for live streaming.
The Supreme Court e-Committee with Judge Chandrachud as president is already pursuing the issue of live streaming of Supreme Court proceedings. The e-Committee is reportedly developing an independent platform to host such live television broadcasts, which will also be open for use by high courts and district courts. The whole effort is to make this possible by the end of August, when the current President of the Supreme Court of India, Justice NV Ramana, will retire. The Gujarat High Court has already introduced live streaming. The High Courts of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa have also taken the necessary steps to introduce live streaming. Hopefully, the process will be replicated across the country.
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Access to justice
The right to access to justice derives from Article 21 of the Constitution. Access to justice is possible if we have an open court system. Open courts offer litigants the opportunity to witness the proceedings. Others rarely go to court to watch the proceedings. Live streaming will allow the public to follow the proceedings in the courts. How judges communicate with lawyers. How lawyers assist the courts. Like the two wheels, the Bar and the Bench work together. The supreme court has said that live streaming effects the right of access to justice and the right to open justice.
Live streaming will make justice more visible, accessible, transparent, accountable, disciplined and participatory. The fact that judges and lawyers are followed live is in itself a big step forward. The rest will follow. Live streaming is rumored to make our judges less innovative and less contributing. And that they could adopt a back seat attitude, without any push or initiative. But the judges are human beings. The zeal to excel is part of every human being. The healthy spirit to contribute more is the best recipe for developing jurisprudence in different areas of law.
The work of the judges is extremely hard. They have to work hard day and night and make difficult choices in very complex situations. Their decisions may not necessarily be popular. Therefore, court observers will need to be educated on the role of the courts.
Judicial education / training and live streaming are like Siamese twins. They are inseparable. During my teaching days at the university, I told students that they should make sure they go to the High Court and the District Court. Whenever an important case and a good lawyer, local or Delhi, had to question the matter, I would tell the students to go and watch the proceedings. It was a good learning process. With live streaming, law students will have the necessary exposure to court proceedings sitting at home.
This would be a real plus for law students. Live streaming will accomplish what law schools have not been able to achieve for decades. Live streaming will also strengthen law professors. Constitutional issues discussed in front of the constitution will be the best way to learn the finer constitutional aspects.
I have always wanted the courtrooms of judicial academies across the country to be converted into courtrooms. Live streaming of district court records would be the best means of training newly selected young bailiffs. So far, a genuine effort has been made to conduct simulated trials. It would, in fact, be a practical way to expose young officers to actual live judicial proceedings. There can be no better exposure to learning. The component of the judicial attachment could be reduced while the duration of their stay at the Judicial Academies could be increased. Lecture sessions could be mixed with live streaming of the court proceedings. This two-way traffic will result in achieving what we have been struggling to achieve.
Live streaming of the court proceedings is already underway in the UK, Australia, China, South Africa and the International Criminal Court. The Supreme Court of Brazil also owns and operates a broadcast channel. The Supreme Court of the United States only provides audio recordings and transcripts of the arguments. The apprehension in the United States is that it may reduce the free flow of topics. It can also change the nature of the questions judges can ask. Judges can also be more reserved in asking questions. These apprehensions are understandable. Initially, some changes may be felt, but these will only be temporary. Over time, judges and lawyers will adapt. It may be, the prosecution will become healthier.
Both the Bar and the Bench would like to give their best when they are observed. There is no justification for thinking negatively about live streaming. The e-Committee of the Supreme Court of India is finalizing the rules of live streaming. This would be a major change in the delivery system of justice. The world will watch us. It will be a dream come true.
(The writer is Professor Emeritus, Senior Lawyer and Director, Academics at Chandigarh Judicial Academy)