Justice Ramana was speaking at a virtual event held to formally launch the live-streaming of proceedings at the Gujarat High Court on Saturday.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said that while live streaming of judicial proceedings would make judges “feel the pressure of public scrutiny”, a judge must “stand up against the public perception out of his commitment to the oath he took under the Constitution”. Justice Ramana was speaking at a virtual event held to formally launch the live-streaming of proceedings at the Gujarat High Court on Saturday.
Reminding that a judge cannot be swayed by popular opinion, CJI Ramana said, “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 to lose objectivity.”
He said that even after 74 years since India’s independence, “multiple incorrect notions still prevail in the minds of the public regarding the justice delivery system,” and with live-streaming of proceedings, “transmission loss” caused by agents of transmission, that is media, can be cured.
He also acknowledged that with live-streaming, judges might become the subject of “multiple debates” but that should not deter them from their duty of protecting “the right of one against the might of many.” Chief Justice Ramana recalled that the day marked the 101st birth anniversary of late CJI Justice YC Chandrachud who was father of Justice DY Chandachud of the Supreme Court. Justice Chandrachud, also present at the virtual event, inaugurated the new website of live-streaming board of Gujarat High Court.
The move aimed at “public confidence and faith to reach new heights,” as CJI Ramana termed, he added that the prevailing notions and misapprehensions “ultimately hinder access to justice, as they may disincline people to seek redressal of their rights”.
CJI Ramana said, “It is high time for demystifying 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.”
Justice JB Pardiwala of Gujarat HC declared the courts live with immediate effect as Justice Chandrachud also added that the new initiative started by the Gujarat HC will become a country-wide feature.
Listing the benefits of live-streaming, Justice Chandrachud added, “We think of court proceedings as proceedings consisting of judges of lawyers… But there is a wider interest of society in what happens in the court, irrespective of whether they have cases pending in the court or otherwise. It is this element of public interest, which livestreaming is intended to subserve. It adds to transparency, people actually get to know that judges are at work… they are working every single part of the day.”
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the functioning of the judiciary, and it’s easy to target judges about the holidays which we have, but people don’t realise the immensity of the work which judges do even when they have time off, including on the weekends. It will reduce costs for the litigants. Live streaming, I believe, has become a necessity in the pandemic as people cannot access court proceedings, they cannot travel, there have been locked downs, but it will equally be essential when the pandemic subsides and normal court working returns, because I do believe that this is indeed the need of the hour. It will demystify court proceedings for all citizens to really convey to citizens the message that we are courts for the people, for the citizens,” said Justice Chandrachud
Highlighting that Indian citizens are “bestowed with the right to know under the Constitution, which includes knowledge of the institutions that serve them,” CJI Ramana added, “One way to further this right is to allow people access to watch the functioning of these institutions. The purpose is to keep the public informed.”
Congratulating judges of Gujarat HC for getting on board for live-streaming of the court proceedings, Justice Chandrachud said that it is “not a very easy thing” for a judge to put their heads on the screen and to make public their minds and personalities “because we are so used to being cloistered in our courtrooms,” thus terming the initiative as “truly a new age that the Indian judiciary is moving into.”
Touching on a possible pitfall of lawyers playing to the gallery with live-streaming enabled, Justice Chandrachud said, “…I must tell you that there must be a certain degree of responsibility on the part of the members of the bar in the context of live streaming, because one of the apprehensions which was expressed was will lawyers argue to the gallery, instead of arguing the case before the court. I am an optimist in human behavior. I do not subscribe to pessimistic or cynical views about the judicial system. And I do believe that the members of the bar are extraordinarily responsible, and they will use this opportunity to responsibly conduct this new process of conveying news, information and views about the court to the wider society.”
CJI Ramana too emphasised that 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,” added CJI Ramana.
On a concluding note, Justice Chandrachud said that “Gujarat really has been at the forefront of initiating and unveiling this new initiative. It’s a progressive state. It has a judiciary with a great deal of vision…”
Justice MR Shah of the Supreme Court also added that “when Gujarat leads, then there is always success and always Gujarat takes the lead.”
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