26 September 2018 will go down as a memorable day for the Supreme Court, thanks to the decision to allow live-streaming of courtroom proceedings and the Aadhaar verdict.
This decision comes at an opportune time for the judiciary, when many have expressed concerns about the accountability of the institution, in light of the press conference called by four of the five senior-most sitting judges of the Supreme Court in January this year.
Bolster Public Confidence By Granting Access
By permitting live broadcast of decisions, the Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud hopes to bolster public confidence and faith in the rule of law.
Their decision is rooted in the right of access to justice, which flows from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which gives citizens the right to attend public hearings. This right of access to justice is also protected by Article 145(4) of the Constitution, which requires all judgments to be pronounced in open court. Technically, this means that anyone interested in witnessing the courts in action should have access to the courtrooms.
However, in reality, many are denied the opportunity to attend proceedings first-hand due to logistical and infrastructural constraints. Even those who do get a chance to snag a seat in court often find that it is a haranguing experience, with lawyers, litigants, interns, clerks and journalists jostling for space in overcrowded and congested rooms. The Supreme Court alone sees an average daily footfall of 10,000 currently – over ten times the number in 1950 – with no corresponding increase in space. The lower courts face even greater constraints – with many district courts bursting at the seams.
Given these conditions, citizens can now breathe a sigh of relief since this judgment will allow them to follow proceedings from the comfort of their homes.
The Supreme Court has directed that the implementation of the project should take place in a phased manner – with hearings initially being broadcast in designated areas within the court’s premises via intranet. Eventually, the project will be expanded to broadcast proceedings on the internet, radio, television and even through mobile applications.
Safeguards for Privacy
While being progressive in its decision to reform access to justice, the Supreme Court has been careful not to violate the dignity and privacy of litigants involved in sensitive matters.
Therefore, to begin with, only cases of constitutional and national importance that are up for final hearing will be live-streamed. The prior consent of all parties involved with proceedings has been made necessary for all recordings.
Additionally, the bench has excluded matrimonial matters, cases involving sensitive issues (such as sexual assault), matters involving children and cases which may arouse social unrest from the ambit of the live-streaming project.
The Various Benefits of the Move
For everyone who resorts to Twitter threads for a minute-by-minute account of proceedings in court (the live tweets following the decision to decriminalise homosexuality and the Aadhaar judgment were widely followed, to name a few) and for those who lament the below-par reportage of judgments in India, the permission to live-stream hearings has opened up an entirely new way of engaging with the judiciary.
Constraints like distance from courts, travelling costs, lack of time and awareness about court proceedings may no longer be considered obstacles to following judicial decisions, which is bound to save time and money for many.
Media houses will benefit from the increased access to courts, allowing for better and more accurate reporting of cases.
Legal education and research too is bound to improve, since live-streaming will enable students and academicians to observe decision-making first-hand.
The decision may even serve as a push to reducing pendency since it has recommended the introduction of case management techniques to ensure that matters are decided in a time-bound manner.
It is clear that interesting times lie ahead for the Indian judiciary and the Supreme Court should be applauded for this progressive move.
(Tuhina Joshi is a policy associate at Ikigai Law, a policy and law firm focussed on emerging technologies. She tweets at @tuhinajoshi11. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them. )