Media coverage and live-streaming of legal proceedings, the "NLU experiment", E-Courts & more: Judges discuss during CAN Foundation Webinar

Media coverage and live-streaming of legal proceedings, the "NLU experiment", E-Courts & more: Judges discuss during CAN Foundation Webinar

Justice Shekhar B Saraf of the Calcutta High Court and Justice Suraj Govindraj of the Karnataka High Court spoke on these themes during a CAN Foundation webinar organised in association with RGNUL, Punjab on Saturday.

Among the various topics discussed by Justice Shekhar B Saraf of the Calcutta High Court and Justice Suraj Govindraj of the Karnataka High Court during a webinar held yesterday were the prospects of e-Courts in India, media reportage and live streaming of legal proceedings and the success of the NLU experiment.

With a broad theme of "Candid Conversations on Professional Journeys: Court Craft, Values & Ethics", the webinar was organised by the CAN Foundation in association with the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Punjab.

Professor Dr Naresh Vats, Registrar, RGNUL delivered the welcome address.

The main discussion was moderated by Anirudh Lekhi (Associate, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co) and Ganesh A Khemka (Senior Law Clerk cum Research Assistant to Justice Surya Kant, Judge, Supreme Court). Aditya Khandekar of the CAN Foundation introduced the speakers and rendered the vote of thanks.

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Capping Court-room arguments in India a matter of mindset

During the discussion, it was mooted that the Indian court system may consider introducing time-restraints for courtroom arguments to aid in faster case disposal and lowering case pendency.

Justice Govindraj observed that this is something that courts in the US may have done over a period of time, and to which people have adapted and evolved. However, the Indian Court system cannot be expected to ape the US courts sytem on this aspect, he observed.

He added that in India, generally, the judge will not give more time to argue than what is required. Restriction of time for presenting arguments may not be the solution to reduce case pendency in India, he opined. He added, however, that it will have to be seen how this proposal pans out.

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Justice Saraf emphasised that capping of arguments is an individualised issue. He said that while he has also set such time limits for certain kinds of cases, "it is impossible to do it for all kinds of matters. Some matters you can.

He added, "It depends absolutely upon the judge. Certain judges are able to stop the lawyers from talking. But certain judges are not able to do that.

He went on to opine that it may boil down to changing the mindset of lawyers and judges,

"We need to cut down on the arguments because the traditional lawyer in India would want to argue the entire day. Unless you stop him, he is not going to stop. So possible there is a need for change in our mindset, the judges mindset also", he said.

On a concluding note he opined that while we can move towards working out such measures, "it is not going to happen overnight."

On E-Courts and Virtual Hearings

Justice Saraf observed that there is no issue with continuing with virtual court hearings even in the future, provided that the facilities are up to the mark and both judges and lawyers are given training.

Justice Govindraj pointed out that an E-Court in its true sense would require facilities such as e-filing, e-payment and the integration of data bases.

When we reach there, that means a lawyer or a judge can walk into a court with an iPad and conduct the proceedings", he said. Having said that, he posed a query as to how many sections of lawyers, litigants and courts actually have access to this kind of infrastructure.

"It is a very nice idea to have an e-court. But can we actually do it? We have 1,100 High Court judges, 32 Supreme Court judges, 25,000 or so district courts… How are we going to set up the infrastructure for all these people? We can’t be elitist. We have to look at the Ram and Shyam litigant sitting in any district", Justice Govindraj added.

On Transcription and Live-Streaming of Legal Proceedings

Justice Saraf opined that moving towards the transcription of arguments made by counsel is a great idea.

"That would help the judge also. Later on, he can refer to it so he doesn’t miss out on anything when he is writing the judgment", he said, adding that the transcribing could possibly done by video as well.

However, he expressed that he was not in favour of allowing the live streaming of cases, except for when it is absolutely necessary, as was the case in a recent plea regarding the Parsi Community.

"If it’s absolutely necessary, that should be done", Justice Saraf said. Otherwise, he expressed that,

"I am not in favour of live streaming of all the matters, simply because then, the banter between the judge and a lawyer - the laughter, the reprimands which would go on - things like that would decrease. The court atmosphere would become a lot more serious. And, the fun would be lost."

Justice Govindraj opined that at present, India did not appear to have the resources to carry out transcriptions in the manner in which it was done abroad.

Citing the example of the US, the judge noted that the machine used to transcribe proceedings in Court was called a stenotype and that it costs $5,000. Adding to this the costs of training, and given the number of judges and courts in India, Justice Govindraj queried if it would be possible to introduce such transcriptions in the country.

"It would be fantastic to get a transcribed copy. But where is the money? UK is investing 2 billion dollars to ramp up its infrastructure on the court system. Can we invest that kind of money? If we can, let’s have E-courts, let us have transcriptions, let us have everything", he said.

Truncated media reportage on social media can be misleading

Both judges observed that court proceedings are sometimes disorted between media coverage and assumptions made thereon on social media.

"Frankly the people who are covering this, even if they are legally trained, they would not be really aware of the circumstances as to why that communication took place. Such kind of reporting, in my view, should not happen. Simply because the people who receive the news may not be in a position to really understand why that particular interaction took place…", Justice Saraf said.

He added that if legal reporting is carried out, it should preferably be by people who have some legal experience.

Justice Govindraj expressed concern that the truncated, one-sided legal reporting on social media is likely to go in one tangent, while another version goes in another tangent.

"People make their assumptions based on this truncated media reportage, which becomes a problem", he observed.

Justice Saraf was also skeptical of the view that judges "play to the gallery" when they are aware that the media is reporting on the case before them.

"Frankly, it is more the reporters who want to sensationalise the particular piece… I don't think it is the case that any of the judges want to sensationalise and therefore make unnecessary comments in the court", he said.

While commenting on how Judges would prefer to avoid the sensationalisation of their case or draw controversy to themselves, Justice Saraf also informed that he is currently off social media, and has been so since his elevation to the Calcutta High Court. He recounted,

"I remember the moment I received my news that I am going to become a judge, I called a friend over to my office and he removed me from Facebook. That was the first thing I did - get out of Facebook. I am not on twitter, snapchat… We (Judges) are not into this. At the most we are in WhatsApp groups. That also closed groups. We don't want our judgements to be sensationalised in that sense. Of course there are certain judgements which are important that need to be brought forward to the citizens - that nowadays anyway the legal sites etc. are doing. So there is no requirement to sensationalise at all."

NLU experiment a success

Both Justices Saraf and Govindraj, NLSIU alumni themselves, were of the view that the National Law School (NLU) experiment has been a success.

Justice Saraf explained that when the National Law School was established in the late 1980s, there was a need for such an NLU to be established. Law was seen as the last resort, Justice Saraf recounted. The idea of legal training was not there.

What Dr Madhava Menon did was he brought in a methodology and a proper system was established for the study of law, Justice Saraf said.

Now we see a host of quality lawyers coming out, he remarked. While many may not go into litigation given the low starting pay, "even if 20% of these students go into litigation, it is a huge success", he said.

"The NLU experiment has been a super duper success", Justice Govindraj remarked, adding that this is evident from various parameters. Apart from litigators spread all over the country, he pointed out that there are now five judges from the law school. He explained further,

"The eligbility (for being a judge) being 45 years, most of the people (passed out from NLUs since their establishment) became 45 in 2017. So if you look at it, in three years, law school has given five judges. Can you call that a failure? I would say no."

Apart from corporate counsel who are NLS alumni, the judge added that there were also district judges, advocates general and additional advocates general.

Over time private law schools that started off by imitating the law school experiment have also emerged. Some private law schools like Jindal are giving NLUs a run for their money, Justice Govidnraj added.

Now Law has become a very viable profession, he went on to say. Law schools have succeeded in manners beyond what people thought of, he opined.

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