A New Sensation of Transparency: Supreme Court Invites People’s Presence

Another creative initiative by the Supreme Court

People will be able to watch proceedings in major cases such as challenge to Citizenship Amendment Act and quota to Upper Castes on economic basis, Article 370.

The Supreme Court will live stream all Constitutional Bench hearings from September 27 on its website, which means anyone can watch the proceedings in cases such as challenges to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the revocation of special status under Article 370 to Jammu and Kashmir. The court had in 2018 ruled in favor of the live streaming — as per citizen rights under Article 21 of the Constitution — but that remained to be implemented.

The court did give out some instructions in its 2018 judgment, such as: “Re-use, capture, re-editing or redistribution, or creating derivative works or compiling of the broadcast or video footage, in any form, shall not be permitted except as may be notified in the terms and conditions of use and without the written permission of the Registry.”

This is also among major decisions since the new Chief Justice of India (CJI), Uday Umesh Lalit, took office. He recently presided over a full court meeting where judges unanimously decided that live streaming should begin with constitutional cases, and could later cover all proceedings. A tangible move was made on August 26,2022 when proceedings from the then CJI NV Ramana’s court were livestreamed on his last day in office. Justice Ramana had formed a number of constitutional benches in his last week as CJI, as some matters were pending without hearing for years.

Questions about the technology were more or less answered during the Covid -19 pandemic as being forced by a lack of options during the lockdowns. Which led to a wider acceptance of the idea. CJI UU Lalit flanked by fellow judges DY Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul at a function in New Delhi earlier this month.

A nudge came last week, when senior lawyer Indira Jaising — one of the petitioners in the 2018 case by law student Swapnil Tripathi — wrote to the judges to start the live streaming in “matters of public and constitutional importance… to keep a permanent record of the arguments by counsel on all sides along with the proceedings of the court”. She also cited the streaming of ceremonial proceedings on the day of Justice Ramana’s retirement to say that infrastructure is available.

Prominent Delhi lawyer Shadan Farasat underlined that “the case for livestreaming of SC cases of constitutional or national importance is quite strong”. “Direct engagement is better than a process mediated through some Delhi-based lawyers or court reporters,” he wrote, suggesting that “wholesale rejection of change is a recipe for stagnation”, so the court must proceed with some terms and conditions in The Indian Express last month.

Petitioners had cited similar streaming in Canada, UK and Australia as examples.

Last year, a court committee also framed the Model Rules for Live-Streaming and Recording of Court Proceedings “aimed at bringing greater transparency, inclusivity and access to justice”.