A full court meeting, conveyed by chief justice UU Lalit and comprising all judges of the Supreme Court (SC), has decided to live stream, from 27th September, all hearings before the Constitution Bench. The judges reportedly agreed that live streaming could begin next week with regular broadcasting of constitutional cases. The decision (of the full Court) was unanimous and the hearings will initially be telecast live on YouTube, sources told Bar & Bench
Last week, senior counsel Indira Jaising wrote to the chief justice of India and other judges of the SC to begin live streaming proceedings of matters of public and constitutional importance and keep a permanent record of the arguments by counsel on all sides, along with the proceedings of the Court.
Commenting on the live streaming of hearings before the Constitutional Bench, she says, "One milestone achieved, now we must ensure the Supreme Court has its own channel for a permanent record until then use YouTube, and we must preserve the transcripts of court records as so ably argued by advocate Jamshed Mistry."
Last month, on his last working day, the proceedings of the ceremonial bench of chief justice NV Ramana were streamed live for all citizens. Welcoming the live streaming, Ms Jaising says, "Finally, the petition filed by me for live streaming of Supreme Court proceedings and the judgement accepting the request is being respected. I am thrilled. Hoping this is now the new normal for all issues of national importance."
Advocate Mistry, who, along with Ms Jaising, has been urging for live streaming of court proceedings and legal transcriptions of court proceedings, says, "It is truly a historic day for transparency in the judicial system to finally see the commencement of the Supreme Court proceedings being live streamed. Kudos to senior counsel Indira Jaising and everyone else, including citizens who fought long and hard for its implementation."
During the COVID pandemic, virtual hearings of court proceedings became a norm. However, these were limited to the concerned parties with restricted access and were not live streamed for the public.
According to senior counsel Ms Jaising, a number of matters of national importance, which includes petitions challenging the quota for economically weaker sections (EWS), hijab ban, and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), are being heard by the apex court. She urged the SC to allow live streaming of cases as per the 2018 judgement, as a part of the fundamental right of every citizen to freedom of information and also the right of access to justice.
"There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge, especially in the era of what has come to be known as 'fake news' and hence, there is an urgent need for real-time information. Since the judgement was pronounced, I have requested the Court to commence live streaming cases of national importance," the senior counsel says.
The cases likely to be live-streamed include petitions challenging the EWS quota law, the Union government's petition on enhanced compensation for victims of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the excommunication in the Dawoodi Bohra community, and SC's power to dissolve marriages on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown.
Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Patna, and Madhya Pradesh High Courts live-stream their proceedings through their YouTube channels.
Last year, the e-committee of the Supreme Court had released "Draft Model Rules for Live-streaming and Recording of Court Proceedings" in the public domain. The e-committee chairperson, justice DY Chandrachud also wrote to chief justices of all high courts, requesting their inputs and suggestions for better implementation of live streaming of court proceedings across India.
"The right of access to justice, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, encompasses the right to access live court proceedings. To imbue greater transparency, inclusivity and foster access to justice, the e-committee has undertaken the project of live streaming of court proceedings on priority," the letter written by justice Chandrachud said.
In April 2021, live streaming of Gujarat High Court's suo motu public interest litigation (PIL), expressing concern about the COVID situation in the state, was viewed by more than 94,000 people. During the hearing, about 9,000 people were watching the court proceedings, making it a pathbreaking development in bringing the judicial process closer to people and letting them follow a life-and-death issue that affects them.
In 2018, the apex court upheld a plea for live streaming of its proceedings in select cases. Hearing two public interest litigations (PILs) filed by senior counsel Ms Jaising and Swapnil Tripathi, a student of Jodhpur-based National Law University, the apex court also sought suggestions from members of the Bar Association on this live streaming of Court proceedings. "The experimentation will begin with the Supreme Court, and we will devise guidelines for it," the Bench said.
Attorney general KK Venugopal submitted that all court proceedings should be streamed live, not only the Constitution Bench matters. He told the Bench that the government would set up a dedicated channel on the lines of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV if the Court decided to go for live telecast of its proceedings.
Advocate Mistry, together with Amrish Kilachand, had joined the PILs through an intervention application (IA) asking for introduction of legal transcription of court proceedings for all courtrooms in India, similar to what they have in Canada, the US, UK, Australia and other developed nations.
They used Section 12 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, which talks about access to justice, as a base for their IA. Advocate Mistry says, "The Section talks about depositions that should be in a format accessible to a person with disabilities. For example, how will a person with a hearing disability understand or interpret the court hearings. In such matters, transcription comes handy." (Read: Supreme Court Allows Live Streaming of Proceedings in Select Cases