Courts across the country may soon open their doors to cameras. In a major step towards making courtrooms accessible to more people, the e-Committee of the Supreme Court has finalised draft rules for live-streaming and recording of court proceedings of the high courts, trial courts and tribunals, finally taking forward the promise of a three-year-old judgment.
The committee, headed by justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, has written a letter to chief justices of all 24 high courts in the country, seeking inputs and suggestions on the draft rules for live-streaming and recording of court proceedings by June 30.
“The right of access to justice, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, encompasses the right to access live court proceedings. To imbue greater transparency, inclusivity and foster access to justice, the e-Committee has undertaken the project of live streaming of court proceedings on priority,” stated the letter.
Live-streaming, added the letter, will enable access to live court proceedings, including on matters of public interest to citizens, journalists, civil society, academicians and law students on a real-time basis, something otherwise constrained by geographical, logistical or infrastructural issues.
The e-Committee, which is working with the Department of Justice under the National Policy and Action Plan for implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian judiciary, has also invited suggestions and inputs from all stakeholders by June 30.
The Supreme Court in 2018 held in a judgment (Swapnil Tripathi and Indira Jaisingh) that telecast of important cases to an audience outside the courtroom would usher in greater transparency and aid accountability, but little moved since. The finalisation of the draft rules is a leap towards letting lights and cameras inside the public institutions.
Speaking to HT, justice Chandrachud said that the rules provide for a legal framework and a balanced regulatory structure for live-streaming and recording of court proceedings. “Going forward, infrastructural requirements such as cloud storage and adequate bandwidth will have to be met. The committee is working towards ensuring proper infrastructure so that high courts across the country have an efficient platform to stream the proceedings.”
Justice Chandrachud added that the draft rules have been framed with a view to realise the vision of the 2018 judgment and to make certain the courts are open and accountable to the community.
The draft rules place a presumption in favour of broadcasting of court proceedings except in a defined range of circumstances. Cases relating to matrimony, sexual offences, gender violence, recording of evidence and those that may provoke enmity among communities have been kept out of the ambit of live-streaming.
Besides, the high court may decide in its wisdom some other category of cases or specific cases where streaming will not be allowed.
“There shall be a delay of ten minutes in streaming, which may be changed as per the direction of the Court. A remote-control device shall be provided to the presiding judge on the bench to pause or stop the live-streaming at any time,” said the rules.
Under the draft rules, parties have been given the option of raising objections to live-streaming by specifying their reasons. “The final decision as to whether or not to allow the live-streaming of the proceedings or any portion thereof will be of the Bench; however, the decision of the bench will be guided by the principle of an open and transparent judicial process,” stated the draft rules, adding the decision of the bench shall not be justiciable.
In cases where the proceedings are not live-streamed, the draft rules states, the recording shall be maintained for usage by the courts and can be given to the parties at appropriate stages after required redaction and filtration.
The draft rules said that the content of the recording will be vetted and shall be posted, usually within three days of the conclusion of the proceedings, on the courts’ website or made available on such digital platforms, as directed by the court.
“The live stream shall not, without the prior written authorisation of the court, be reproduced, transmitted, uploaded, posted, modified, published, or republished in any form,” stated the rules, underlining any unauthorised usage of the live stream will be punishable as an offence under the Indian Copyright Act, Information Technology Act, and other provisions of law, including the law of contempt.