Live Streaming of Court Proceedings

LIVE STREAMING OF COURT PROCEEDINGS

As the first example in India, Gujarat High Court is live-streaming its Court proceedings on Youtube. High Court has also said that this proceeding is on an experimental basis only and its continuity will be decided based on the outcome of this trial.

Important questions to ask here are: is it allowed to live stream the proceedings of courts in the public domain and what could be the possible implications of live streaming the proceedings?

Is it allowed to live stream the court proceedings?

  • This matter was discussed in detail in the judgment of Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India.
  • In this case, Swapnil Tripathi filed a PIL in the SC against the bar imposed on the interns to not enter the courtrooms on miscellaneous days.
  • SC in this landmark case, provided with the following judgment:
    1. live streaming of Court proceedings is allowed in all the matters, except in rape cases and matrimonial disputes.
    2. live-streaming would be initiated from the SC and extended to the High Courts and Lower Courts. Initially, cases of national importance would be live-streamed.
    3. In Feb. 2020, in response to the application sought implementation of the 2018 order, the SC bench said that the matter would be dealt with by the Chief Justice of India on the Administrative Side.

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Guidelines for live proceedings: 

  • The final decision of whether to live-stream a case or not lies with the court. The decision cannot be appealed.
  • Supreme Court must retain copyright over the broadcasted material.
    Final say in respect of the use of the coverage material.
  • Reproduction, re-broadcasting, transmission, publication, republication, copying, storage of the original broadcast of court proceedings should be prohibited.

Even after 2 years of judgment, nothing much has been done on this front. A committee of five judges was set up by SC to assist the e-committee of the Supreme Court, but the report is still awaited.

Virtual court system: In April, the Supreme Court had upheld the virtual court system and deemed all restrictions imposed on people from entering, attending, or taking part in court hearings as lawful in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, SC stated that the issue of Live-streaming would be discussed later and told HC’s to frame rules on video-conferencing.

SC has allowed each high court to make its own rules and trial courts under it for the virtual court system. Separate rules have been allowed as Uniform rules for all high courts would prove difficult, considering the difference in connectivity and e-literacy.

Why live streaming of the Court’s proceedings is essential?

  • Accountability: As stated by SC, Live streaming is an extension of the principle of open court and will bring accountability to the judicial process.
  • Right of access to Justice: Live proceedings are in line with the right of access to justice under article 21. This would help people residing in distant places to witness court proceedings, which they otherwise could not have due to logistical issues and infrastructural restrictions.
  • Judgments of national importance: SC of India is one of the world’s most powerful and influential courts, regularly deliberating on matters that changed the course of public life, but no public record of its own proceedings has been made by SC.
  • International comparison: Among big and established democracies, India is alone that is not providing video or audio transcripts of the court proceedings, despite having in place the required infrastructure for the same.
  • Security and accessibility balance: SC has over the period of time tightened security in the courtroom, allowing persons only with the pass. To maintain this security and also making its proceedings accessible to the people outside, live streaming is required.
  • Article 129: Publishing court proceedings is an aspect of Article 129, per which the Supreme Court is a court of record.
  • Boosting public confidence in judiciary: Litigants depend on the information provided by the lawyers, regarding the court proceedings and the public on various reports. If the description and information provided are inaccurate, not only it negatively impacts the confidence in the judiciary, it also violates the public’s right to know. Openness and transparency reinforce the public’s faith in the judicial system.

Issues in live streaming of court’s proceedings

  • As per the statements made by CJI Bobde, in principle, live streaming should be there but in practice, Live streaming of Court proceedings is open to misuse as proved by so many complaints over the virtual court proceedings.
  • live-streaming would lead to people filing petitions just for the sake of “being heard all across the country”.
  • There are lots of issues and arguments during the hearings which might not be suitable for live streaming.
  • Due to the presence of the digital divide in the country, live streaming still might not result in access to justice for all sections of the country.

Initiative by SC for inclusive justice

  • The Court started providing vernacular translations of its judgments.
    Non-accredited journalists were permitted to live-tweet court proceedings.
    Journalists have been permitted to view virtual court proceedings in real-time during the lockdown.

International experience

  • New Zealand, South Africa, and Brazil permit live streaming and recording of court proceedings.
  • Apex Court of Canada has a webcast system to watch the proceedings live.
    US apex court releases audio transcripts of the oral arguments on the same day but it doesn’t permit Video recording or photography of the proceedings.
  • SC of UK allows live streaming of the proceedings.
  • In Australia, proceedings are recorded and posted on the high court’s website.
  • Even authoritarian regimes like China is providing live proceedings of Courts from trial courts up to the Supreme People’s Court of China.

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As India is looking for a dominant position globally, it requires establishing itself as a country providing justice to its citizen in every way possible. In India where SC is playing a proactive role of deliberating upon the matters that are life-changing and also has a huge impact on the political atmosphere of the country, it becomes necessary that each word that SC is trying to convey to the general public reaches its intended goal. Thus, it is high time that the steps like live proceedings and audio broadcasting should be implemented at a very fast pace.

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