Prior Consent of Parties, Time Delay etc: The Supreme Court on Live Streaming of cases

Prior Consent of Parties, Time Delay etc: The Supreme Court on Live Streaming of cases

Aditi Singh

Following the lead of several common law jurisdictions across the world, the Supreme Court of India today allowed live streaming of cases of constitutional and national importance.

The two separate concurring opinions by Justice AK Khanwilkar – writing for himself and Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra – and Justice DY Chandrachud, accepted the guidelines suggested by Attorney General KK Venugopal for live streaming of Court proceedings.

The Court thus agreed to implement the scheme as a pilot project, and directed for formulation of “relevant rules” expeditiously.

Justice Khanwilkar observed that the “right of access to justice” flows from Article 21 of the Constitution of India and would be meaningful only “if the public gets access to the proceedings as it would unfold before the Courts and in particular, opportunity to witness live proceedings in respect of matters having an impact on the public at large or on section of people.”

He stated that the live-streaming would be done on the internet and/or on radio and TV through live audio-visual exclusive broadcasting by an official agency, such as Doordarshan, and/or official website/mobile application of the Supreme Court.

The entire project would have to be executed in phases, and the first phase of the project would commence only after formal rules to this effect are framed by the Court, he observed.

Nonetheless, until a full-fledged mechanism for live streaming of proceedings of the Supreme Court on the internet is evolved, the possibility of implementation of Phase-I of live streaming in designated areas within the confines of this Court over “intranet”, could be explored.

Justice Chandrachud, in tandem with Justice Khanwilkar and CJI Misra, elaborated upon the benefits of allowing live proceedings.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant”, he said while pronouncing the verdict.

He observed that live streaming would increase accessibility to courtroom proceedings, effectuate the public’s right to know, reduce the public’s reliance on second-hand narratives, enable law students to observe and learn, enhance the rule of law, and promote better understanding of legal governance as part of the functioning of democracy.

He further asserted that live streaming would reduce the congestion in courtrooms and enhance the accountability of judicial institutions and of all those who participate in the judicial process.

Delay in the dispensation of justice is a matter of serious concern. Live-streaming of court proceedings will enable members of the public to know of the causes of adjournments and the reasons why hearings are delayed”, the judgement reads.

The two opinions concurrently acknowledged the need to strike a balance between administration of justice and rights of litigants as well as witnesses.

The Court, therefore, pinpointed certain “basic issues” that should be kept in mind while framing the guidelines.

These are as follows:

–  Only a specified category of cases or cases of constitutional and national importance being argued for final hearing before the Constitution Bench be live streamed as a pilot project, after due permission of the concerned Court

– Prior consent of all the parties to the concerned proceedings must be insisted upon. If there is no unanimity between them, the concerned Court can take the appropriate decision

– The concerned court would retain its power to revoke the permission at any stage of the proceedings suo motu or on an application filed by any party to the proceeding or otherwise, in that regard, if the situation so warrants, keeping in mind that the cause of administration of justice should not suffer in any manner

– There must be a reasonable time-delay between the live court proceedings and the broadcast, in order to ensure that any information which ought not to be shown, as directed by the Court, can be edited from being broadcast

The Court has also clarified that the focus of the cameras in the courtroom would be directed only towards the Bench and the arguing advocate. At no time would the “camera angle” reveal the contents of notes or reference material being relied upon by the arguing advocate or being perused by the judges. Discussions among the judges on the Bench, a judge giving instructions to the administrative staff of the courtroom, any staff member communicating any message to the judge or circulating any document to the judge, would also fall under the category of prohibited telecast.

The Court would hold copyright over the content, and reproduction, re-broadcasting, transmission, publication, re-publication, copying, storage and/or modification of any part(s) of the original broadcast of Court proceedings, in any form – physical, digital or otherwise, would be prohibited.

Justice Chandrachud also suggested that initially, the pilot project might be conducted for about three months, by live streaming only cases of national and constitutional importance in the Chief Justice’s Court.

Progressively, as and when the infrastructure is ready, the Court can expand the ambit of live streaming to cover all cases (except for the ones which are excluded). He called for an absolute exclusion of “certain sensitive cases” like matrimonial or sexual assault cases.

He further suggested maintenance of audio-visual recordings of each day’s proceedings in the Audio-Visual Unit of the Supreme Court Registry or on the website of the Court, and the establishment of a Broadcast Room for the differently-abled.

Apart from court proceedings, Justice Chandrachud also suggested live streaming of oath ceremonies of the judges of the Supreme Court, speeches delivered by retiring judges and other judges at the farewell ceremonies of judges, addresses delivered in judicial conferences or Full Court References or any event organized by the Supreme Court or by advocate associations affiliated to the Supreme Court, or any other events.

Read the Judgement:

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