Live streaming is the best way to learn the court business

When my book ‘My Journey with Law and Justice’ was published in January this year, Supreme Court Justice Dr DYChandrachud said that ‘justice seems to be served only when court proceedings are open to the public’ . Speaking at length on the live broadcast of court proceedings, Justice Chandracud said a judge should not be judged solely by the number of judgments rendered or the elimination rate. When a judge begins to hear a case, he must do so with an open mind. Unbridled by his prejudices. It is imperative that justice be done. This should also appear to be done. Justice seems to be served only when court proceedings are open to the public.

The issue of live streaming was raised before the Supreme Court in Swapnil Tripathi v Supreme Court of India (2018) through a public interest motion by a student, wanting to watch the court proceedings. This was practically not feasible due to the number of seats in the court as well as security reasons and time constraints. There were other petitions by public-minded people. Being a matter of constitutional and national importance, the case was heard by a bench of three judges, namely, CJI Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, who upheld the necessity of the live broadcast.

The electronic committee of the Supreme Court, chaired by Justice Chandracud, is already studying the question of live broadcasting of the proceedings of the Supreme Court. The e-Committee is reportedly developing an independent platform to host these live broadcasts, which will also be open to High Courts and District Courts. All effort is to make this possible before the end of August when the current Chief Justice of India, Justice NV Ramana will retire. Gujarat High Court has already introduced live streaming. The High Courts of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa have also taken the necessary steps to introduce live streaming. It is hoped that the process will be replicated across the country.

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Access to Justice

The right of access to justice derives from Article 21 of the Constitution. Access to justice is possible if we have an open court system. Public hearings offer litigants the possibility of following the proceedings. Others rarely go to court to watch the proceedings. The live broadcast will allow the public to follow the court proceedings. How judges communicate with lawyers. How lawyers assist the courts. How the two wheels, bar and bench, work together. The Supreme Court confirmed that live streaming implements the right of access to justice and the right to open justice.

Live streaming will make Justice more visible, accessible, transparent, accountable, disciplined and participatory. The fact that judges and lawyers are watched live is in itself a big step forward. The rest will follow. It is said that live streaming could make our judges less innovative and less contributory. And that they could adopt a backseat attitude, without any dynamism or initiative. But judges are human beings. The zeal to excel is part of every human being. The healthy mind of contributing more is the best recipe for developing jurisprudence in different areas of law.
The work of judges is extremely hard. They have to work hard day and night and make difficult choices in very complex situations. Their decisions are not necessarily popular. Therefore, court monitors will need to be trained on the role of the courts.

Judicial education/training and live streaming are like conjoined twins. They are inseparable. During my teaching days at the University, I used to tell students that they should make it a point to go to the High Court and the District Court. Whenever an important case and a good lawyer, local or from Delhi, had to solve the problem, I would tell the students to go and watch the proceedings. It was a good learning process. With live streaming, law students will have the required exposure to court proceedings sitting at home.

This would be a real boon for law students. Live streaming will accomplish what law schools have been unable to achieve over decades. The live broadcast will also strengthen law teachers. The constitutional issues debated before the benches of the constitution will be the best way to learn the finer constitutional aspects.

Better training

I have long wanted the classrooms of judicial academies across the country to be converted into courtrooms. Live broadcasts of district court hearings would be the best way to train newly selected young magistrates. So far, a real effort has been made to organize mock trials. This would, indeed, be a convenient way to expose junior officers to live court proceedings. There can be no better exposure to learning. The court attachment component could be reduced while the duration of their stay in the Judicial Academies could be increased. Conference sessions could be mixed with live streaming of court proceedings. This two-way traffic will achieve what we have striven to achieve.

Live streaming of court proceedings is already underway in the UK, Australia, China, South Africa and the International Criminal Court. The Supreme Court of Brazil even owns and operates a broadcast channel. The United States Supreme Court only provides audio recordings and transcripts of arguments. The fear in the United States is that this could restrict the free flow of arguments. It may also change the nature of the questions judges can ask. Judges can also be more reserved when asking questions. These apprehensions are understandable. At first, some changes may be felt, but these will only be temporary. Over time, judges and lawyers will adapt. Perhaps the legal process will become healthier.

Both the bar and the bench would like to look their best when supervised. There is no reason to think negatively about live streaming. The electronic committee of the Supreme Court of India is in the process of finalizing the rules for live streaming. This would be a major change in the justice delivery system. The world will be watching us. It will be a dream come true.

(The author is Emeritus Professor, Senior Advocate and Director of Studies at Chandigarh Judicial Academy)

Julio V. Miller