Live streaming of SC proceedings: the rationale and the concerns
Sept. 22, 2022

In News:

  • Recently, the Supreme Court decided to live stream its proceedings in crucial Constitution Bench cases that will be heard from September 27.
  • This decision came nearly four years after a plea was made in the interest of transparency.

What’s in Today’s Article:

  • News Summary

News Summary

History of the case:

  • This year, on August 26, on the day of former Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana’s retirement, the Supreme Court streamed its proceedings live.
  • But, in the Swapnil Tripathi judgment, in September 2018, the SC had cleared the deck for live streaming of cases of national and constitutional importance.
    • In 20018, a three-judge Bench agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking live streaming of judicial proceedings.
    • The court had issued notice to the then Attorney General of India K K Venugopal, seeking his views on the issue.
    • After receiving the recommendation, the Supreme Court approved a set of guidelines, which included allowing transcripts and archiving the proceedings.

Recommended by A-G

  • A-G had recommended introducing live streaming as a pilot project in Court No.1, which is the CJI’s court, and only in Constitution Bench cases.
  • However, the A-G suggested that the court must retain the power to withhold broadcasting, and to also not permit it in cases involving:
    • Matrimonial matters,
    • Matters involving interests of juveniles or the protection and safety of the private life of the young offenders,
    • Matters of National security,
    • To ensure that victims, witnesses or defendants can depose truthfully and without any fear.
      • Special protection must be given to vulnerable or intimidated witnesses.
      • It may provide for face distortion of the witness if she/he consents to the broadcast anonymously,
    • To protect confidential or sensitive information, including all matters relating to sexual assault and rape,
    • Matters where publicity would be antithetical (contrary) to the administration of justice, and
    • Cases which may provoke sentiments and arouse passion and provoke enmity among communities.

Live streaming in HCs

  • Following the SC’s decision, Gujarat High Court began live streaming its proceedings in July 2021.
  • Currently, the Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Patna High Courts live stream their proceedings.

What happens elsewhere?

  • USA:
    • While the US Supreme Court has rejected pleas for broadcast of its proceedings, it has since 1955 allowed audio recording and transcripts of oral arguments.
  • Australia:
    • Live or delayed broadcasting is allowed but the practices and norms differ across courts.
  • Canada:
    • Proceedings are broadcast live on Cable Parliamentary Affairs Channel, accompanied by explanations of each case and the overall processes and powers of the court.
  • United Kingdom:
    • In 2005, the law was amended to remove contempt of court charges for recording proceedings of the Supreme Court.
    • Proceedings are broadcast live with a one-minute delay on the court’s website, but coverage can be withdrawn in sensitive appeals.

Benefits of live streaming

  • Improves transparency
    • Broadcasting court proceedings is a step in the direction of transparency and greater access to the justice system.
  • Improves legal literacy of masses
    • Livestreaming the proceedings will not just increase legal literacy but potentially enhance the public’s continuous engagement with the Constitution and laws.
  • Positive systemic corrections can be made
    • A research paper, which studied the audio proceedings of the US Supreme Court, found that judicial interactions at oral argument are highly gendered.
      • Women were interrupted at disproportionate rates by their male colleagues, as well as by male advocates.
    • Later, the gendered disruptions identified by the study was addressed.
      • Now Justices ask questions according to seniority instead of interrupting in a random way.

Concerns around live streaming

  • Irresponsible use of the content
    • Video clips of proceedings from Indian courts are already on YouTube and other social media platforms with sensational titles and little context.
    • There are fears that irresponsible use of content could spread disinformation among the public.
  • Impact on the behaviours of Justices
    • As 2018 research paper from Brazil concluded that justices behave like politicians when given free television time, they act to maximize their individual exposure.