September 23, 2022 By Vaseline

Transparency is key to live streaming the Supreme Court

Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit has a short tenure but he will be remembered for live streaming Supreme Court proceedings. Starting Tuesday, the proceedings of all constitutional banks would be available on YouTube. “Any case involving a fundamental point of law interpreting the Constitution” must be decided by a panel of at least five judges. Such a bank is called a constitutional bank. This marks the beginning of a process already underway in the Supreme Court. There are now six High Courts – Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Patna and Madhya Pradesh – where live streaming takes place. It is as easy for the public to click on the YouTube address of the Supreme Court in question to watch the proceedings from anywhere in the world. Since the cases heard by the Constitutional Chamber are of great importance, since they touch on essential constitutional issues, public-minded persons, including lawyers, will certainly want to follow the proceedings. Because the records would be stored in the cloud or on the Supreme Court’s servers, they would provide a permanent record for interested parties.

What can be said of cases heard by the Constitutional Bank can be said of all cases heard by the Apex Court. It is the highest appellate body and only cases of national importance or directly relating to the interpretation of the law in question are heard by the court. In short, there is a strong case for broadcasting all Supreme Court proceedings live, which the parties concerned can follow from the comfort of their own homes. There is no need to crowd the courtrooms. The chief judge would have based himself on the statement that Rome was not built in a day. The way the court works has changed fundamentally, mainly due to the technological shift that has taken place. There was a time when you had to pay the fee and wait weeks and months to get a certified copy of the court decision. Today, the judgments are available on the website in an easily downloadable format within hours of the judges delivering their verdict. Of course, the technological revolution hasn’t eliminated the need for good old news reporting, which emphasizes the salient aspects of judgment.

In other words, court reporting continues because the general public does not have time to read lengthy judgments and sift the grain from the chaff. You need to get the verdict in an easily digestible capsule form. The live-streaming process got a boost during the Covid-induced lockdown as the Supreme Court and Supreme Court used apps like Google Meet and Zoom to let lawyers appear in court and argue their case. The parties concerned were allowed to follow the proceedings using the password provided to them by the lawyers. The productivity of the judges did not suffer because they could hear the cases in an undisturbed, orderly and time-bound manner. Lawyers were encouraged to provide written opinions rather than lengthy oral statements. In fact, one of the proposals to speed up the administration of justice was to have lawyers present their arguments in writing. However, the proposal was frowned upon by lawyers, fearing it would diminish their importance. The experiment during lockdown suggested that written submissions were easier to handle and decipher than lengthy arguments.

Zoom-like apps had a limitation as only a certain number of people could attend the session, while on YouTube tens of thousands of people can follow the proceedings. The quality of the debates in Parliament has not deteriorated since the start of the live broadcast of the negotiations. In fact, MPs were forced to speak better as video clips of their speeches could be released. The situation is different in court, where a lawyer’s success or failure depends on how well he presents his case and obtains a verdict in his favour. People in India saw the utility of live streaming as India argued before the International Court of Justice in The Hague against a Pakistani military court-ordered hanging of Kulbhushan Jadhav. There are several countries like USA, Canada, Australia and UK where live streaming is made available in one form or another of their Supreme Court proceedings. In the next month, many phone companies will roll out their 5G services, which will greatly improve the quality of internet-based services. Only when things are fit for purpose does the judiciary make use of the most modern technology in order to democratize the administration of justice!

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