In a very welcome move, Senior Advocate Indira Jaisingh has filed a petition in the Supreme Court that seeks “to live stream and/or videograph the Supreme Court hearings of cases/proceedings of matters of constitutional and national importance that impact the public at large”. This petition, filed under Article 32 of the Constitution aims to further the principle of access to courts, and particularly in advancement of right to information, which is a significant part of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
“The Supreme Court of India today deals with issues such as clean air, environmental pollution, safe drinking water, drunken driving, firecracker ban. It also deals with issues such as challenge to Aadhaar, challenge to Section 377, triple Talaq etc,” Advocate Jaisingh said. “We all have a right to know what arguments are made and the responses of the judges. Their judgements bind us all. Hence it is in our interest to hear and see in real time the people making these decisions. Most other constitutional courts live stream their proceedings “
Her petition contends that this would be in furtherance of the principle that justice should not only be done but seen to be done, and that it would empower, and provide access to citizens who cannot personally come to court due to social, economic, health, or physical disability related constraints through the decision of the court will impact them.
The provision of live streaming or video recording would enable citizens to have first-hand information of case proceedings on issues of constitutional importance that affect them directly or indirectly and would be of archival and educational value and there is no rational reason as to why proceedings of great public importance on public law should not be telecasted live. It would help citizens understand how judgments and orders that impact them are arrived at.
The petition refers to the proceedings from the Lok Sabha being recorded in both audio and video format since 1994, and webcast from Lok Sabha as well as Rajya Sabha since 2003. Since 2004, these proceedings have also been telecasted on their respective television channels, facilitating the understanding of governance and functioning of democracy among the masses.
Live streaming of cases of national importance would also inspire public confidence in the judiciary, the petition argues. It would bring transparency and accountability in the administration of justice. Further, this would avoid the spread of misinformation, conscious disinformation, and misunderstanding of the role of the Court in these matters. This certainly seems to be a growing concern today.
The petition states that live streaming or videography could be avoided in the countervailing interests of privacy as in family law cases, or in the interests of witness testimonies in criminal matters.
The petition goes on to name Apex Courts of many common law countries, and international forums, such as United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, European Court of Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, that have devised differing means for recording, broadcasting, or live streaming their proceedings for the public.
The petition asserts that live streaming of such proceedings would be in consonance with the principle of an open court established under Article 145(4), and in furtherance of the fundamental right of access to justice under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. It would be in keeping with the judgment of the nine-judge bench in Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Another AIR 1967 SC 1, where it was held that “Public confidence in the administration of justice is of such great significance that there can be no two opinions on the broad proposition that in discharging their functions as judicial 3 tribunals, courts must generally hear causes in open and must permit the public admission to the court room.”
Pending the availability of the infrastructure for live streaming, Advocate Indira Jaisingh suggests the use of Youtube through a dedicated channel for the proceedings of the Supreme Court as a cost-effective solution that can be implemented immediately.
The petition specifically names cases of national importance currently listed before the Constitution Bench that ought to be recorded in this manner:
- K. S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (W. P. (C) No. 494/2012): A group of petitions challenging the Aadhaar Act, 2016 have been put before the Constitution Bench, hearing for which is scheduled in January, 2018.
- Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala (W. P. (C) No. 373/2006) : The right of women to enter the Sabrimala Temple in Kerala has also been referred to the Constitutional Bench.
- Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (W. P. (Crl) No. 76 of 2016): Referral to a larger bench for the reconsideration of Suresh Koushal v. Naz Foundation, and the curative petition on this issue of decriminalization of Section 377 of IPC.
- Joseph Shine v. Union of India (W.P. (Crl) 194/2017): The case 4 challenging the adultery provision in the IPC, Section 497 as being violative of Article 14. This case has now been referred to a Constitution Bench for consideration.
- Goolrukh Gupta v. Sam Rusi Chothia & Ors. (SLP (C) No. 18889 of 2012): The case of a Parsi daughter to attend the funerals of her father, scheduled for January, 2018.Other important cases include but are not limited to:
- 6. Swatija Paranjpe v. State of Maharashtra (SLP Civil No. 24602 of 2016): The case challenging the laws prohibiting slaughter of bulls and bullocks and consumption of beef is set for February, 2018. This case raises issues inter-alia of right to food of choice.
- Nyayadhar v. Union of India, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ors. (W.P.(Crl) No. 156 of 2017): A judgment that provided guidelines to ensure that there is no misuse of Section 498A of IPC has been decided to be reconsidered by the Supreme Court.
This petition indeed sounds like a step in the right direction.