Erik Pevernagie the author of Words of Wisdom has rightly said-“No hemming or hawing, no hinting or manipulation, no sledgehammer–subtlety may hold us back from claiming a climate of transparency and capturing an untainted and luminescent skyline, when the boldness of the truth is coming defiantly to the fore.”
The recent decision by the Apex court of the country wherein it began live streaming its proceedings has once again taken us a step forward towards ensuring judicial transparency. The landmark decision of the Supreme Court which brought live, the ongoing arguments has now ensured that not only law students across the country, but also the general public can see and understand what goes into making the judges decide on an important question of law. It is also a big wake up call for all those who had the audacity to say that the judicial system of the country is not strong or hardworking enough and that this is the only reason why we have a large backlog of cases pending before the courts of law.
Even though to begin with, only three Constitution Bench proceedings were webcast on YouTube by the National Informatics Centre, this step has definitely ensured that sooner or later, all the courtrooms will function under the watchful glare of the entire world. It was seen that more than 8 lacs people watched the live streaming of the 5-judge Constitution Bench headed by CJI UU Lalit in Court No 1 together with Justice DY Chandrachud led bench in Court 2 and the Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul led bench in Court 3 on the first day of it going live. The three benches were deciding the questions pertaining to the EWS Quota, the issues thrown up by the shiv sena split and the legal challenge to the All India Bar Examination.
Even though it is said that honesty and transparency make one vulnerable, yet the Apex court has taken this mammoth step of laying itself out in the open by broadcasting its proceedings. The impact of these proceedings on both the bar and the bench cannot be understated. Performing one’s duty within the four walls of the court rooms and performing them under the watchful and probing eyes of the public at large are two different ball games altogether. Public scrutiny has said to whittle the strongest of Davids of the Century.
While on the one hand, transparency increases credibility and accountability it also on the other increases the pressure on the already overburdened judiciary. There are many decisions which are right but not so easily acceptable to all……. The road to good intention is always paved with a thousand stones, in this scenario, giving decisions which shall bear fruits in the long run but are extremely cumbersome today will be an even more difficult task with millions of watchful eyes and critical ears.
One strata that is elated with this decision is the student fraternity specially the law students along with citizens who are always interested in keeping abreast with matters of public importance. Where else after all would one have the opportunity of watching the likes of the then AG KK Venugopal, Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Meenakshi Arora and a host of other Senior Advocates. There were also some who argued remotely through VC thus paving the way for all Non-Delhi Lawyers who were asking for a regional bench of the Apex Court in their respective states. The Supreme Court has also now stated in various proceedings that due to the advent of the system of virtual hearings, it can truly be said that justice is reaching the doorsteps of the litigants and hence the need of a regional bench is whittled down to some extent.
Even though the Supreme Court has started its live screening very recently on 27 September, it was the High Courts of various states which took the lead by streaming their proceedings on YouTube. The High Courts of Karnataka, Odisha, Gujrat and some others have been livestreaming their proceedings for quite some time now. In fact, some of these proceedings are also captured on camera and then become viral as was the one where a particular High Court Judge was seen scolding a government Officer for not dressing appropriately for a court appearance. There was yet another proceeding wherein the judge was not convinced with the arguments of a particular lawyer during a bail matter and hence asked him to argue the appeal against the conviction which sent the lawyer’s mind reeling!
Not all days however are full of such anecdotes as those who were expecting intense drama on the first day of the live streaming were also in for a disappointment as all they witnessed were arguments in support and against the question being decided. The historical precedents, judicial citations and legal terminologies occasionally being interjected by the judges who sought clarifications on certain points did not make too interesting a watch for most.
Like every dark cloud comes with a silver lining, Covid-19 too has brought with it the necessary push that was needed to make the Indian Legal System jump into the tecno-savvy world. The system of Virtual Hearings that was thrust upon us during the pandemic, has become our biggest savior today. The benefits of Work-From-Home cannot be overstressed. In a system that is already reeling under the pressure of physical distances, the comforts provided by the virtual appearances are a boon not only to the purse strings bit also favor all the lawyers who only till now dreamt of putting across their submissions before the Apex Court owing to them not practicing in Delhi. The posting of all orders on-line has to a large extent done away with the requirements of certified copies of court orders, now live-streaming is the next big thing towards transparency and access to justice. This also ensures that the public that till now was living under the misconception that the judicial system is not working hard enough gets to know exactly what goes into passing the judgements that effects their lives.
The live-streaming of the Court proceedings was totally glitch free and the credit for the same can be largely attributed to Justice DY Chandrachud who is also heading the e-committee of the Supreme Court. Justice Chandrachud has also been at the forefront in taking steps to reform the judicial system by bringing it up to date with the evolving times and keeping abreast with all the latest technology.
The Supreme Court in its guidelines for the phased commencement to telecast court’s hearings live had also said that-“Sunlight is the best disinfectant and the live screening would reduce the public’s reliance on second-hand information and would help reduce misinformation and misunderstanding about the judicial process.” The court had also said that –“Live-streaming is a significant instrument of enhancing the accountability of judicial institutions and all those who participate in the judicial process. Delay in the dispensation of justice is a matter of serious concern. Live-streaming of court proceedings will enable members of the public to know the causes of adjournments and the reasons why hearings are delayed.” Live-streaming was further said to “enhance the rule of law and promote better understanding of legal governance as part of functioning of democracy.”
The physical limitations imposed due to the size of the court rooms and the security concerns are all done away with in the virtual world. Justice Chandrachud has himself said that- “Access to justice can never be complete without the litigant being able to see, hear and understand the course of proceedings first hand. Apart from this, live-streaming is an important facet of a responsive judiciary which accepts and acknowledges that it is accountable to the concerns of those who seek justice. Live-streaming is a significant instrument of establishing the accountability of other stake-holders in the justicing process, including the Bar.”
Justice Chandrachud has always been known for his modern and unconventional ways of dealing with problems, very recently, on the last working day of the apex court before it shut for the Dussehra vacations, Justice Chandrachud along with Justice Hima Kohli, decided to sit till late into the evening in order to hear all the cases listed before it on that day. While the normal court working hours are 10:30 a.m- 4:00p.m., the bench on that day sat till 9:10p.m. and then proceeded to thank the lawyers and the court staff by saying-“Happy holidays everyone. We are very happy that we could hear you all. Thankful to our patient court staff…Thank You.”
Even though some say that -Total transparency risks a country's stability, it cannot be denied that transparency in one’s attitude will win trust from everyone.
“You have to be transparent so you no longer cast a shadow
but instead let the light pass through you.”
(The author is an Advocate on Record practising in the Supreme Court of India, Delhi High Court and all District Courts and Tribunals in Delhi. She has done her Doctorate in Criminal Law and is the Legal Member in the Internal Complaints Committee of various private as well as Government Organizations. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)