Chief Justice Of India Advises Caution To Lawyers And Judges On Live Streaming

Justice NV Ramana takes oath as the new Chief Justice of India, on April 24, 2021. (Photograph: President of India/Twitter)

Chief Justice Of India Advises Caution To Lawyers And Judges On Live Streaming

Live streaming of court proceedings is a step in the right direction but one must tread with caution, Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana said during the launch of the live streaming of the Gujarat High Court proceedings.

The high court became the first court in the country to adopt a full scale live streaming of its proceedings on Saturday. This comes a year after the high court started live streaming its proceedings on an experimental basis on YouTube.

The Chief Justice of India said that the Supreme Court is also keen to start live streaming the proceedings from some of its courtrooms. However, the Chief Justice warned lawyers and judges about the pressures live streaming may bring on them.

Judges might feel the pressure of public scrutiny, which may ultimately result in a stressful environment that may not be conducive to justice dispensation, said Chief Justice NV Ramana.

A judge must remember, even if justice commands standing up against the popular perception, he must do so out of his commitment to the oath he took under the Constitution. A judge cannot be swayed by popular opinion. Yes, with increased public gaze, he might become a subject of multiple debates, that should never deter him from his duty to protect the right of one against the might of many.
Justice NV Ramana, Chief Justice of India

The Supreme Court of India gave an in-principle approval to live streaming through a judgment in 2018. The court last month also released the draft rules for live streaming of proceedings. The draft rules were shared with the high courts for their feedback. The rules had also measures to address concerns such as protecting the privacy of the parties.

The Chief Justice mentioned these concerns in his speech on Saturday.

Another aspect that must be taken into consideration is the privacy of the parties involved and ensure the safety and security of the victims and witnesses. Therefore, it is imperative to carefully calibrate the rules governing such live-streaming by keeping in view the competing interests.
Justice NV Ramana, Chief Justice of India

Chief Justice Ramana pointed out that even after 74 years of independence, multiple incorrect notions prevail in the minds of the public regarding the justice delivery system and it is high time it de-mystified.

The Chief Justice also advised lawyers on how to maintain dignity of the profession during live streaming.

Similarly, with the increasing access, lawyers should not go after publicity, rather they must ensure to put in all possible efforts to protect the best interests of his clients. They must always uphold and maintain the dignity of the profession.
Justice NV Ramana, Chief Justice of India

Also read: Will Live Streaming Weaken The Quality Of Dialogue In Courtroom?

Full transcript of Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana's speech:

Today marks an important day as we are observing the 101st Birth Anniversary of legendary, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, former Chief Justice of India. I pay my humble tributes to his memory. Democracy is all about the people. The people of India are bestowed with the right to know under the Constitution, which includes knowledge of the institutions that serve them. One way to further this right is to allow the people access to watch the functioning of these institutions. The purpose is to keep the public informed. It is only on the backs of an informed citizenry that a representative democracy can survive and evolve.

​The Constitutional Courts of our country, the largest democratic republic in the world, are the guardians of the Constitutional mandate. For public confidence and faith to reach new heights, it is imperative for us to widen the gates of justice. I say widen, because traditionally the Courts have always been open. Since their inception, from the filing of a plaint to the delivery of the judgment, every proceeding of the Court is based on the idea of transparency. Hearing of cases have always taken place in public courtrooms, with access being allowed not only to the lawyers and the litigants in a particular case, but also to the public. The only restrictions that were ever imposed were because of space and security considerations. Recently, the pandemic has forced us to impose new restrictions.

​However, the harsher realities of poverty, social inequity, lack of awareness, cost, distance and time made it difficult for some of the population to actively attend Court proceedings.

Truth be told, even after 74 years of independence, multiple incorrect notions still prevail in the minds of the public regarding the justice delivery system. These prevailing notions and misapprehensions ultimately hinder access to justice, as they may dis-incline people to seek redressal of their rights. It is high time for de-mystifying the justice delivery system in the country and furthering access through open courts. Access to justice will become a true reality, when litigants and interested parties get to witness, understand and comprehend justice dispensation first hand.

It may be noted that not all cases may be of interest to the public. People may want to follow the arguments of the lawyers and observations of the bench only in certain cases, such as those that involve Constitutional interpretation or attract public attention. Currently, the public obtains information about Court proceedings through the media. In effect, the information from the courts is being filtered by agents of transmission. In the process, there is sometimes a transmission loss leading to misinterpretation of questions asked and observations made by the bench, due to the absence of context. Vested interests are eager to amplify these misinterpretations in order to embarrass or discredit the institution.

​It is this lack of direct access which gives space for misconceptions. The formalisation of the live streaming of court proceedings is the best cure for the aforesaid malady.

Live-streaming of proceedings is crucial for dissemination of information which is a sacrosanct aspect of Article 19. Through such direct access, the people can get first-hand information about the entire proceedings and the opinions of the judges, leaving little room for any mischief.

Although a step in the right direction, one must tread the path with caution. At times, live streaming of proceedings may become a double edged sword. However, judges might feel the pressure of public scrutiny, which may ultimately result in a stressful environment that may not be conducive to justice dispensation. A judge must remember, even if justice commands standing up against the popular perception, he must do so out of his commitment to the oath he took under the Constitution. A judge cannot be swayed by popular opinion. Yes, with increased public gaze, he might become a subject of multiple debates, that should never deter him from his duty to protect the right of one against the might of many. Always remember, as a repository of people’s faith, a judge cannot afford lose objectivity.

Similarly, with the increasing access, lawyers should not go after publicity, rather they must ensure to put in all possible efforts to protect the best interests of his clients. They must always uphold and maintain the dignity of the profession.

Another aspect that must be taken into consideration is the privacy of the parties involved and ensure the safety and security of the victims and witnesses. Therefore, it is imperative to carefully calibrate the Rules governing such live-streaming by keeping in view the competing interests.

I am extremely happy to note that the High Court of Gujarat has taken up this initiative to live stream court proceedings and have formalized the same through the institution of rules. The Committee under the leadership of Brother Chandrachud is playing a wonderful role in bringing all the courts on board to unleash the transparency revolution with the aid of modern technology. As I have stated earlier while launching access of online proceedings of the Supreme Court to the media, we are keen to start live proceedings at least for some of the courts in the Supreme Court. We are working out the logistics and working on consensus of the full court. With the aid of modern technologies, I am given to understand that we can introduce this live streaming feature in a cost effective manner without imposing much of a burden on the exchequer.

I congratulate the Chief Justice Vikram Nath, Justice Pardiwala, Chairman, Live streaming Rules Committee and Brother Judges of Gujarat High Court who have come forward to open up their courts for everyone to watch the justice delivery system in action - live, unfiltered and unedited - as envisioned by our founding fathers.

Also read: Mere Right To Change Rulers Not A Guarantee Against Tyranny: Chief Justice NV Ramana

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