Live streaming of SC cases: Justice must be seen to be done, and now, we can all watch it

The landmark verdict by the Supreme Court this week will bring in transparency, and empower we the people.

 |  4-minute read |   29-09-2018
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The past month has seen the country hanging on to the Supreme Court’s words, as it delivered its verdict on a range of issues, from how we love (homosexuality, adultery cases), how we pray (Ayodhya case verdict), how Aadhaar-linked our lives need to be, and if safeguarding the right to dissent could infringe on matters of security (Bhima Koregaon activists’ arrest).

What most of us heard of the cases was the final verdict, and how it impacted our everyday lives.

The past month has seen the country hanging on to the Supreme Court’s wordsThe past month has seen the country hanging on to the Supreme Court’s words. (Photo: PTI/file)

But because these were well-publicised cases, for the past few days, our social media timelines have been flooded with things the various judges said in the course of the hearings. Sample some:

  1. “Husband is not the master of the wife”. (CJI Dipak Misra, adultery verdict
  2. “Marriage does not mean the ceiling of sexual autonomy.” (Justice DY Chandrachud, adultery verdict)
  3. “I am what I am. So take me as I am.” (CJI Dipak Misra and Justice Khanwilkar, Section 377 verdict).
  4. “History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights.” (Justice Indu Malhotra, Section 377 verdict) 
  5. Identity is necessarily a plural concept… Aadhaar is about identification and is an instrument which facilitates a proof of identity. It must not be allowed to obliterate constitutional identity.” (Justice Chandrachud, Aadhaar verdict).

These statements were made after careful, thorough analysis is of all the relevant facts, the consequences, the context, etc.

It must have been a fascinating show — the brightest legal minds of the country discuss an issue threadbare, and then decide upon their verdict.

There is another, very important statement from the Supreme Court in the past week, delivered in what can prove to be another landmark judgment: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

A bench of CJI Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said this on September 26, while delivering a verdict that allows live-streaming of court proceedings.

Soon, cases of national and constitutional importance will be live streamed, and anyone who wishes to can follow a hearing gavel to gavel.

As citizens of a democracy, we deserve to be well-informed on the issues that affect us.  Also, in the time of fake news and WhatsApp ‘facts’, the best way to counter misinformation is information.

When we hear a court verdict, we may nor may not agree with it. But actually following the case, hearing all the nuances of an issue being discussed, can help increase awareness and shape our understanding of critical issues that impact us like nothing else can.

At present, written copies of several court judgments are available to the public. But with the live streaming, not just the verdict, but also the process of arriving at the verdict, will be open to us. Also, as CJI Misra said, the impact of text and visual is different, and “time has come for the visual impact of court proceedings”.

The move will promote transparency, and increase the accountability of the practising lawyers and judges, keeping them on their toes.

Legal services in India are expensive. Once cases are lives-streamed, while deciding upon a lawyer, we will not have to depend on reputation and second-hand accounts, but choose a lawyer we have watched in action, and whose style of working we feel we will be most comfortable with.  

Court rooms in India have always been open to the public. However, due to space constraints in court rooms, the expense of travel — especially for the SC which is located in Delhi — etc., not everyone who wishes to manages to attend hearings.

When access to anything is limited, hierarchies come into play. Live streaming will also mean democratisation of the court, as the footage will be available to all.  

Court rooms in India have always been open to the public, but space constraints lead to over-crowding, while also keeping many out. Courtrooms in India are open to public, but space constraints lead to over-crowding, while also preventing many from attending hearings. (Photo: YouTube)

In India, cases often drag on for years, and for what transpired in previous hearings, the legal system has to depend on written records or memory. The live recording will serve the purpose of archiving the hearings.

Adequate precautions have been taken by the court to ensure that the privacy of litigants, or the security of the nation, is not compromised by the live streaming.

Cases of sexual assault, those involving juvenile offenders, or those on matters of national security will not be streamed out.

Initially, as a pilot project, only cases of “constitutional and national importance being argued for final hearing before the Constitution Bench” will be live-streamed. The operations will be gradually stepped up.

Consent of the litigants will be asked for, and the court will be the final body that decides if the case can be live streamed. The nod to live stream can be revoked at a later stage if the court feels the need for it.

Also, the court has ordered that must be “a reasonable time-delay (say 10 minutes) 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.”

In 1923, a British judge in a verdict had said: “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” The statement has since become of the governing principles of how justice is administered. 

In India, we are one step closer to this happening, literally.  

Also read: Why Justice DY Chandrachud is the judiciary's sexy voice of dissent


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