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As HC YouTube channels become a hit, SC panel plans exclusive platform to livestream courts

Supreme Court e-committee felt the need for a streaming platform after six HCs launched their own YouTube channels. But livestreaming of court proceedings likely to be voluntary.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s e-Committee is working on a proposal to launch an exclusive platform for live-streaming court proceedings, ThePrint has learnt.

This comes as part of the third phase of its ongoing e-courts project — an ambitious initiative to implement the use of information and technology in India’s judiciary.

Currently, six high courts in the country — Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Patna, and Madhya Pradesh — have their own channels on YouTube to live stream their proceedings. These proceedings are streamed on the basis of the Supreme Court’s e-Committee’s model guidelines, a set of directions aimed at regulating live streaming of court proceedings in India. 

The guidelines were circulated for feedback from stakeholders — including high courts and the NITI Aayog, India’s apex public policy think tank — in June 2021.

The development comes more than three years after the Supreme Court first recommended live streaming its hearings — on 26 September, 2018, a Bench led by then Chief Justice of India (CJI) declared live telecast of court proceedings part of the right to access justice under Article 21 of the Constitution

An official associated with the e-courts project told ThePrint that the SC e-Committee thought of establishing a platform of its own after seeing the positive response that the various high courts’ YouTube channels have been getting. 

Once this platform becomes operational, the officer added, the high courts that already have their own channels will switch over too. “The e-Committee is devoted to the cause of transparency in judicial process and an exclusive platform to live stream court hearings is an effort towards achieving this objective,” the official said. 

The Supreme Court’s e-Committee is headed by sitting Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

Another official said that having such a platform will also address privacy concerns and data security issues that come with streaming court proceedings on a public platform. 

“The social media platform in use right now is a public one and concerns have been raised regarding privacy of proceedings as well as the data that is now shared online. It was, therefore, felt that it would be better to have an exclusive channel that can become an alternative platform to telecast live court proceedings,” the official said.

Live streaming of court proceedings will not be made mandatory for high courts, the official added. Meanwhile, the e-courts committee is currently giving finishing touches to the model live-streaming guidelines, the official said.

“We have received an overwhelming response to our draft rules and the committee is finalising them so that they can be adopted by the HCs that want to go ahead with live streaming,” the first officer said.

Each high court could have its own set of rules based on these guidelines. The six high courts that already have their own live streams must tweak their rules to adhere to the guidelines, the official said.

The development is especially significant given how courts were forced to switch to virtual hearings because of the Covid pandemic. 


Also Read: SC hopes to use its new judicial database with real-time case updates to help reduce delays


How it began

The Supreme Court’s suggestion to live stream proceedings came while it was hearing a petition filed by Swapnil Tripathi, a law student. Tripathi had filed the petition against a Supreme Court notice that stopped law students and interns from entering courts on Mondays and Fridays, when it takes up new cases. In his petition, Tripathi had also asked for court proceedings to be telecast live.

Accepting Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s suggestion to live stream court proceedings, the bench led by then CJI Dipak Misra had said: “If the administrative arm of the Court does not act on its very own judgement, it shows the court in a very bad light”.

The verdict, however, did not give any judicial direction to live-stream the court proceedings — instead, it said that it should be put before the CJI on the administrative side for a decision.

The Supreme Court has seen three CJIs since — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, S.A. Bobde, and the incumbent N.V. Ramana. While no steps were initiated during the tenures of justices Gogoi and Bobde, Justice Ramana, who leaves office in August this year, too, has been unable to implement the court’s verdict, even though he has spoken in favour of making a formal decision to begin live streaming.

Soon after he took over the CJI’s office, Justice Ramana announced he was keen to start live streaming of SC proceedings and was working on a full-court consensus — that is, to get all judges of the court to agree to it.

The CJI’s statement, made on 17 July, 2021, came against the backdrop of the Gujarat High Court launching its YouTube channel. Before the high court launched its channel formally, the court’s then chief justice, Vikram Nath (now a Supreme Court judge), first experimented with live streaming and, in October 2020, live-streamed his court proceedings.

Today, the Gujarat HC’s YouTube channel has 98,000 subscribers, with over 1,500 people logging into the channel every day.

Madhya Pradesh High Court began live streaming its court proceedings in June 2021 after some journalists filed a petition in the court demanding access to virtual hearings during the pandemic. The court’s YouTube channel now has more than 26,000 subscribers.

Others followed soon after: Orissa went live in August 2021 and now has over 12,000 subscribers; Jharkhand started its channel in December 2021 and now has more than 2,360 subscribers; and Patna launched its live streaming in December 2021 and has more than 10,700 subscribers today.

In January, Karnataka High Court launched its YouTube channel. Less than a month later, the court began to hear petitions challenging the state government’s ban on hijab in educational institutions. The channel has more than one lakh subscribers today. Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi’s courtroom had more than 80,000 views in February and March this year when the court was hearing arguments in the case.

“These YouTube channels have also enabled HCs to widen their reach since they also telecast official programmes and conferences on them, which allows online participation of the general public as well,” an official from the Supreme Court’s e-Committee told ThePrint.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)


Also Read: How SC wants to streamline tribunal appointments even if govt objects to court’s choice


 

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