The Gujarat High Court is experimenting with livestreaming of virtual court proceedings on YouTube to increase access to courts. This is aimed at “effectuating and broadening” the implementation of the open court concept even for virtual hearings, Chief Justice Vikram Nath ordered on Monday. Starting Monday, the livestream of one bench — the division bench led by Chief Justice Vikram Nath — is available on YouTube. The link for each day can be accessed on the High Court’s website and YouTube channel; links for the following day will be updated in evenings.
Based on how this goes, the court will decide whether to continue with this, or try out another way to giving access to virtual court proceedings. It’s worth noting that livestreaming has been permitted specifically for online video hearing; the court has not promised livestreams should it go back to physical hearings.
The court’s release also referenced a petition in the Gujarat HC by a Nirma University law student that sought directions for livestream proceedings to keep up with principles of open court and access to justice. The court had ruled that the public should be allowed to view court proceedings held on video, except for so called in-camera hearings, which are held in private.
Like most other high courts, the Gujarat High Court had switched to virtual hearings once the coronavirus lockdown was put in place in March. In the pre-coronavirus era, access to physical hearings was allowed, albeit they require(d) certain permissions and checks. After virtual hearings became the norm, some courts became more restrictive, disallowing anyone but those directly related to the case to attend hearings.
The Gujarat HC has certainly made progress when compared to the Delhi High Court, that barred any public viewing or attendance, including by journalists, of all online court proceedings in September. It also makes hearings more open than those of the Kerala High Court, which makes the Zoom link of every upcoming hearing public on its website, with anybody permitted to attend.
Chief Justice Vikram Nath cited a Supreme Court judgment on livestreaming from September 2018, wherein the apex court had laid down guidelines for livestreaming and held that Supreme Court Rules would have to be suitably amended to accommodate this. The court had ruled, in a judgment passed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice AM Khanwilkar, that livestreaming hearings is extension of the principles of open courts and that it will bring transparency and accountability to the process.
The court had formed a committee of two judges to figure out how the public, including the media, can be given access to proceedings. It’s unclear if this is a result of the committee’s recommendations, or if the committee has submitted its findings yet.