In live-streamed proceedings of the Constitutional Court Chamber next week, the Supreme Court follows in the footsteps of six Supreme Courts
This old adage “seeing by faith” was never truer than in the corridors of the Indian courts, which for decades have witnessed another, sadder pronouncement: “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
There is now a welcome acknowledgment – in government and in the Bank – of these delays stretching over a decade, and the unbearable wait of thousands of court cases can no longer go unaddressed.
This issue may not be resolved immediately, but a dramatic shift has occurred, prompted in small measure by the Covid-related lockdowns: the ability of litigants and lay Indians to see justice being delivered in real-time, both sound and Image on a YouTube channel viewable on any device, even a mobile phone.
On September 27, when the hearings of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court will be televised live, India will join a very small clique of nations whose judicial system has sufficient confidence to conduct its culmination hearings in the full glory of its own citizens.
The United Kingdom? Yes.
Brazil or South Africa? Yes.
The United States? no
The largely conservative US Supreme Court has long wrestled over whether court hearings should be televised and broadcast live. It fears that with cameras in the courtroom, lawyers and even judges could seize the opportunity to “tribune” for the larger audience outside.
Today, the US Supreme Court only uploads audio recordings of its trial, no video. District courts in 13 of the 50 states do the same.
Their fears may be unfounded: When the US Congress’ January Six Committee investigating the attempted insurgency in the state capital on Jan. 6, 2021, televised some of its meetings earlier this year, the result was one of the highest viewership figures in the US TV history: nobody appeared; nobody bothered.
As India’s Constitutional Chamber begins its deliberations on a number of high-profile cases, including the Economically Backward Classes Act, the issue of improved compensation for victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, even the constitutionality of the Sedition Law, hundreds of thousands of Indians are faced with a personal or ideological issue interest in the matter, being able to witness the process by which the court’s decisions are reached.
There are 493 cases pending in the Constitutional Banks, so the public interest will be enormous.
suggests The time of India in an editorial: “If citizens can witness SC hearings addressing the big issues raised by loquacious democracy, brutal competition policies and social exodus, two positive outcomes are likely:
more interest in crucial matters shaping India’s governance and greater accountability for SC judges and notable attorneys, who are typically those who participate in litigation before the constitutional benches of the Supreme Court.
Yet it is widely understood that the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Uday Umesh Lalit, needed the unanimous approval of the judges on the bench with him two days ago to assuage all concerns and make the crucial decision regarding life – Streaming of proceedings of all constitutional banks.
This has been pending for exactly four years: on September 26, 2018, the Supreme Court declared that live broadcasting of court proceedings should be part of the right of access to justice guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution in conjunction with Article 14.
About a week ago, Supreme Court Attorney and former Assistant Attorney General Indira Jaising wrote to Chief Justice Lalit, suggesting that the one-off live broadcast of CJ’s formal farewell, NV Ramanna, should take a more permanent form. In fact, she was one of the petitioners in the 2018 case that led to the decision at the time.
Supreme courts show the way
In June 2021, as a follow-up to the 2018 decision, the Supreme Court’s E-Committee drafted rules for “live streaming and recording of court proceedings”. Read the PDF of the rules here.
There are appropriate limitations on how the media can use these recordings, as well as special protections and prohibitions for cases involving marital affairs, sex crimes, gender-based violence, and the like.
Since then, six High Courts have implemented these guidelines and started live-streaming all of their court cases.
The National Informatics Center has assisted the state courts in setting up the necessary infrastructure, and pending the establishment of dedicated web channels, the YouTube channel will be used so that lay people can watch and hear the sessions of these high courts live.