Why live streaming court proceedings of Constitution Benches is a ‘supreme’ leap towards transparency

The historic move by the Supreme Court also saw wide public interest with over eight lakh views of the proceedings

Snehil Kunwar Singh September 29, 2022 14:43:14 IST
Why live streaming court proceedings of Constitution Benches is a ‘supreme’ leap towards transparency

Supreme Court of India. PTI

The Supreme Court of India in a welcome move has started to live stream its court proceedings of Constitution Benches. The historic move also saw wide public interest with over eight lakh views of the proceedings. This era of transparency needs to be viewed in light of several attempts toward opening the court to the public in the past.

Need for transparency

Transparency has remained a cherished principle across the globe in the functioning of any democratic institution. It serves multiple objectives – it helps in keeping the authority under check and constant public gaze and scrutiny as well as keeps the citizenry informed about the institutions which ultimately have a bearing upon their lives.

The court is one such very important institution. It not only affects the parties to the dispute but also the rights of the public at large. This role has been accentuated in the case of single integrated judiciary of India with the Supreme Court at the top. As per Article 141 of the Constitution of India, the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Further, Article 144 of the Constitution provides that all authorities, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court. Needless to say, the law declared by the Supreme Court is law of the land binding on everybody in the country.

The concept of ‘open courts’

In such a scenario, it is of paramount importance that citizens have access to court and its proceedings. This has been understood in terms of ‘open court’. The constitution under Article 145 incorporates this idea whereby clause (4) states that no judgement shall be delivered by the Supreme Court save in open Court, and no report shall be made under Article 143 save in accordance with an opinion also delivered in open court.

This idea however has undergone modification from time to time. While initially the courts were open to everybody, whether a litigant or not, increasing caseload and the number of people approaching the courts constrained the ability of the court to manage its infrastructure and staff. Resultantly, passes began to be issued and entry was regulated. This restricted to a great degree the ability of people to observe court proceedings. Further, it is unjustified to place the burden on people to go to courts at the cost of their livelihood and other resources.

The age of technology has ably provided solution to such issues. Now with live streaming, several institutions started offering live streaming of their conduct and proceedings to the public. There were increasing demands for the Supreme Court to follow suit which saw the historic case of Swapnil Tripathi in 2018. Finally, the Supreme Court agreed to live stream and evolve a mechanism for availing of the services.

The Supreme Court – ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’

Several key steps toward transparency started being taken by the Court since 2015. After the collegium system came under intense public scrutiny and declaration by the Court that the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2015 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act was unconstitutional, the court invited public opinion on improving the collegium system. In the same year, the court started uploading the collegium resolutions on the Supreme Court website.

In the case of Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal, the Supreme Court through its constitution bench declared that the office of the Chief Justice of India is within the ambit of RTI (Right to Information) Act, 2005. Further, recently the Supreme Court in a hearing remarked that an online portal for filing RTI to the Supreme Court would soon be functional. In the spirit of accessibility, the Supreme Court has also noted that it allows virtual hearings for everybody to participate.

These are welcome steps that must be constantly improved. It is noteworthy to mention the Supreme Court’s observation here: “judicial independence is not secured by the secrecy of cloistered halls”. The court is as strong as the faith of the public in it.

The author is a student at NLSIU Bangalore and International Editor, Cambridge Law Review.

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