The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to stream live all hearings by its constitution bench from September 27. Six high courts in the country already stream their proceedings live.
The decision came a week after lawyer Indira Jaising wrote to Chief Justice UU Lalit suggesting livestreaming of hearings to combat fake news. Jaising was one of the petitioners who had asked the court in 2018 to stream its proceedings live. And the top court live streamed its proceedings for the first time on August 26, the day previous CJI NV Ramanna’s term ended.
The citizenry has a deep interest “in the arguments presented in court and the exchange between counsel and judges”, the former additional solicitor general contended in her letter to Lalit. “It forms a part of the right to be well informed, to be educated by the process, and to contribute if we have anything significant to say. In particular, constituencies such as lawyers, students and the press will be deeply interested in the intricacies of the arguments and will want to report and revisit the arguments.”
Jaising spoke with Newslaundry about the top court’s decision. Excerpts from the interview:
Who benefits most from this decision?
I think the first constituency to focus on are litigants. You have litigants from as far as Lakshadweep to Kanyakumari to J&K. They will be able to listen to the arguments in real time and understand better what’s going on in the Supreme Court. Second, it will lead to the general public having some amount of confidence in the Supreme Court. Third, it will introduce some amount of accountability in the legal profession. Hopefully, the arguments will be more responsible and focussed on the legal issues.
You had earlier filed a petition for live streaming proceedings.
I filed a petition in 2018 asking for live streaming proceedings. The judgement was delivered by Justice Deepak Mishra, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice AM Khanwilkar and held that the right to receive information is a fundamental right. They said livestreaming of hearings will benefit law students and is an educational tool. The high courts of Patna, Karnataka and Gujarat started live streaming proceedings some time back. I am very happy that the court took note of my letter and its decision is said to have been unanimous.
How has the livestreaming experience been so far with these high courts, considering there’s an element of sensationalism? Any pitfalls?
No, you have to look at the cost-benefit analysis. I did mention in my letter that we are living in an age of disinformation. Therefore, it is best for us to listen and see for ourselves to find out what’s happening in real time. There is no way you can stop people from saying what they want to say. But then there will be evidence on record of what the court said.
Context is very important in judicial matters. On YouTube, however, there are some court clips with no context.
The guidelines clearly stipulate that you can’t do that. Anyone who does is liable for contempt of court action.
How far will this decision go in improving legal literacy of the masses?
Hopefully, this is the permanent feature of the Supreme Court now. One of the requests I had made was that the court should have its own channel. I think it has all the technology available to have its own channel. Constitutional courts in other parts of the world have their own channels.
How has the livestreaming experience of court proceedings been in other countries?
You can see for yourself. Courts in the UK, the US and other countries do it. Livestreaming is a worldwide phenomenon.
Will livestreaming make judges more conscious in how they conduct themselves and what they say?
I can’t answer for the court. But comments in the court are basically an exchange between the bar and the bench. They should be taken in that light. I am sure every judge is very conscious of what he or she is saying…I think livestreaming will prevent disinformation and misinformation. A lot of what happens in the court is lost in transition. Now we can watch it live and make up our own mind.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant as courts have repeatedly said…
It’s up to journalists to be responsible. Now we don’t have to depend on what an individual journalist is saying. The record is out in the open.