Live-Streaming of Court Proceedings: A Double-Edged Sword
Many problems will arise when live streaming of Court proceedings takes place. These problems need to be acknowledged and addressed.
The Supreme Court of India, on 7th June 2021, released the Draft Model Rules for Live-Streaming and Recording of Court Proceedings. These rules have been released with the intention to "de-mystify" the judicial process and to make the Court proceedings transparent and more accessible to the people. These Rules form a part of the National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology, which aims at computerizing the justice delivery system. These Rules comprise the guidelines for the live streaming and recording of Court proceedings of the High Courts, lower courts and tribunals.
Chief Justice N.V Ramana has said that the live streaming of the Court proceedings was crucial for the dissemination of information and that this is sacrosanct to free speech and expression. To this effect, the Gujarat High Court became the first Indian Court to have a live broadcast of their court proceedings.
Guidelines for Live Streaming of Cases
The draft rules lay down certain guidelines that have to be followed while live streaming. First and foremost, there are certain cases that will not be allowed to be live-streamed. These will be the cases involving matrimonial matters, including the transfer petitions arising thereunder, cases relating to sexual offences, which would include the petitions filed under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, cases involving gender-based violence against women, cases relating to POCSO, in-camera proceedings, recording of evidence and cross-examination, privileged communications between parties, non-public discussion between advocates and cases where a claim of privilege has been accepted by the Court. The Bench would have the discretion to disallow the live streaming if they feel that it would be antithetical to the administration of justice or will provoke enmity between communities, leading to a breach of law and order. This decision of the Bench is non-justiciable.
Why Is There A Need For Live Streaming
Chief Justice Ramana stated that live streaming of Court proceedings will make the process of dispensation of justice more transparent. This transparency would then encourage more people to approach the Courts to seek justice. The CJI added that live streaming of the Court proceedings will also remove many misconceptions that the people have about the justice delivery system.
People who advocate for the live streaming of Court proceedings argue that this would further promote the concept of free speech and the right to access justice. Along with that, live streaming would remove the fear that a lot of people associate with Court proceedings and would make the process more approachable and accessible.
It is important to note here that many other countries such as the US and Canada conduct live streams of some of their Court proceedings. Furthermore, India live-streams the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha proceedings, which promotes accountability and transparency. Hence, live-streaming of Court procedures is also possible to do.
However, many problems will arise when live streaming of Court proceedings takes place. These problems need to be acknowledged and addressed.
Problems With Live Streaming of Court Proceedings
In a democratic setup like India, the legislature and the executive are accountable to the people, while the judiciary is independent. The Courts act as the judge in the society and have the duty to adjudicate upon the disputes fairly and freely. So, while live streaming Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha session would foster a sense of accountability in the legislators, the same argument does not apply to the judiciary. The judiciary is an independent body, free of influence from the legislators, executive and the public. Hence, it is not accountable to anyone except the Constitution of India.
Moreover, live-streaming of Court proceedings might impede upon the objectivity of the Courts. As much as the Courts will try to remain impartial and objective, the judges will be subjected to public opinion, which would hinder upon their ability to give a non-biased judgement. This especially becomes a concern when a Court is to adjudicate upon a high profile case. This would also prove to be extremely harmful to the accused in such high profile cases, as more often than not, they would already be declared guilty by the court of public opinion. Live streaming of such cases especially would put a lot of pressure on the judges and they would inevitably lose their objectivity, and would cater to the popular opinion of the public, in order to escape the criticisms and the wrath of the public. Therefore, the accused would not get a free and fair trial, as promised by the Constitution.
Another problem that may arise is that the clips of the Court proceedings or certain statements given by judges might be taken out of context or be edited in ways to promote certain malicious ideas. These can then be circulated on various social media platforms, and can also be used to incite hate against certain persons or communities. This would ultimately contribute to the ongoing epidemic of fake news. This would, in turn, not allow the judges to express their thoughts and opinions freely in the Courts, as they would fear that their words will be taken out of context and manipulated to convey different and harmful ideas.
Lastly, live streaming of Court proceedings would be seen as an opportunity by many people to gain publicity and hence, they would file ingenuine petitions in the Courts. This would waste the precious time of the Court, which would have otherwise been used to adjudicate upon other pressing matters.
The role of lawyers in the judicial system is to assist courts in dispensing justice. If Court proceedings are telecast live or videos circulated in the public domain, lawyers and even Judges may start playing to the gallery. This is a tendency that is already on the rise since courtroom conversations are now extensively covered by digital and electronic media. There have been instances when comments of Judges during hearings, reported in media, have proven to be more impactful than orders. If proceedings are videographed, Judges are more likely to resort to making oral observations to achieve an end, than pass a written order. It has to be borne in mind that written orders have to be within the four corners of law and are subject to scrutiny by the hierarchy of courts. However, Judges are not accountable for their oral remarks and a party aggrieved by a remark, which could be heard and seen by the whole world, has no remedy against it.
Although digitization of the judiciary is extremely important, live streaming of court proceedings might do more harm than good. Instead, transparency could also be promoted by way of making recordings of the Court proceedings available, after the judgements have been passed by the Bench. This would enlighten people about how a court functions and promote the transparency that the live streams aim to do. Furthermore, since the recordings will be made public after the judgement has been given, the judges will not be pressured by the public to give a certain verdict and can adjudicate impartially. It is not for no reason that even in the United States, a country where the media is strong and independent, where there are television channels dedicated to covering court proceedings, its Supreme Court has till date refused to permit live video streaming of its proceedings.
[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents.]