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As SC contemplates live telecast of hearings, Gujarat HC has been showing the way for long

A bench of the Gujarat High Court has been live streaming its hearings since October 2020 on YouTube. The channel has almost 34 lakh views in total.

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New Delhi: In a judgment last week, the Supreme Court had said that “courts must be open both in physical and metaphorical sense,” which renewed the discussion around possibly streaming court hearings live.

While launching an application for media persons to access virtual court hearings Thursday, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana also asserted that he has been seriously contemplating live telecast of apex court hearings in some important matters.

While there is no clarity on when this will happen in the SC, the Gujarat High Court has already been live streaming its hearings for over six months now. A bench of the high court has been airing all its hearings live on YouTube and it has received widespread praise for it.

The SC also cited the high court in its above-mentioned judgment and noted that the Gujarat HC has “introduced livestreaming of its proceedings, in a bid to enhance public participation in the dispensation of justice”.

The observation was made while the top court rejected the Election Commission of India’s plea on 6 May, asking for a gag on media reporting of oral remarks made by judges in courts. This was after a Madras High Court judge said that the EC should be “be put on murder charges probably” for allowing massive poll rallies to take place.

Upholding the right of the media to report court proceedings on a real time basis, the SC also said that “the concept of an open court requires that information relating to a court proceeding must be available in the public domain” and that citizens have a right to know what transpires in the course of judicial proceedings.

The court also pointed out that several courts across the world, including the US Supreme Court, the UK Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal of the UK and the International Criminal Court enable public viewership of proceedings through live streams or similar technology.

The observations assume significance at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic pushed for a change in the functioning of the judiciary in India, with courts resorting to virtual hearings.

However, at present, the video hearings can only be accessed by the lawyers and their clients, and are not open for public viewing.

Also read: SC invites bids for system to allow virtual and physical hearings at the same time

How Gujarat HC began airing hearings live

The live streaming at the Gujarat High Court began on 26 October 2020, after the Registrar General of the HC issued a press release communicating an order passed by Chief Justice of the High Court, Vikram Nath. This order referred to the landmark 2018 judgment, Swapnil Tripathi v Supreme Court of India, in which the top court had authorised live streaming of court proceedings.

The release also referred to another PIL before the high court, which had on 20 July 2020 asserted that “to observe the requirement of an open Court proceedings, the members of the public should be allowed to view the Court hearings conducted through the video conferencing”.

The high court press release said that “with a view to effectuating and broadening the implementation of Open Court concept even during the virtual hearings of the Court”, it is working on “giving access to anyone who wishes to watch the court proceedings in live”.

It therefore decided to start live telecasting proceedings of the chief justice’s court “on experimental basis”.

Since then, the hearings have been streamed live on the high court’s YouTube channel, which currently has over 58,000 subscribers and 94 videos. The channel has almost 34 lakh views in total.

Also read: Let virtual courts continue after pandemic, they are safer & faster, parliamentary panel says

Educational experience, access to general public

In its 6 May verdict, the Supreme Court had also asserted that “an open court serves an educational purpose as well”, adding that “the court becomes a platform for citizens to know how the practical application of the law impacts upon their rights”.

And the Gujarat High Court seems to have done just that, becoming a hit with the general public. The first video of the HC, aired on 26 October last year, has over 9.5 lakh views, with over 900 comments. And most of these comments are by the common public, appreciating the beauty of court craft and the high court’s initiative.

Several viewers also mentioned how they were viewing real court proceedings for the first time and compared it with court proceedings in movies.

For instance, one viewer, Vijay Singh commented: “Saw it for the first time in my life, otherwise, only in movies.” Meanwhile, another viewer, Venkatesh Kunchenappalli wrote, “Thanks to Chief justice of high court of Gujarat. First time in my life, I saw how a real court proceeding works (unlike in movies) (sic)”.

Apart from them, several professionals have also appreciated the initiative, with one “CA final student” commenting that he “can actually connect what I have learnt in Customs Act…Income Tax Act”.

“A very healthy conversation and listening to this will also help me for my practical life after my exams!” he added.

Also read: Virtual courts won’t displace open hearings, but tech has potential: Justice Chandrachud

Plea in Gujarat HC to to give access to journalists 

While the Gujarat HC limited live airing to the proceedings of the chief justice’s court till now, on 11 May, it also live streamed the proceedings before another bench comprising Justices Bela M. Trivedi and Bhargav D. Karia.

This bench is hearing the high court’s suo motu PIL on “uncontrolled upsurge and serious management issues in Covid control”.

Meanwhile, citing the Supreme Court’s 6 May judgment, a petition has now been filed in the Gujarat high court demanding that video conferencing links for all hearings should be provided to the media, to enable them to report these proceedings.

The HC is not the only one to stream their proceedings online. In February last year, the Calcutta High Court had also approved live-streaming, but this was only for one case. The plea was filed by a Parsi woman challenging the community’s norms restricting children of those who married outside the community entry into the fire temple.

The Supreme Court has also been looking into streaming their court cases live for some time now.

Before CJI Ramana’s remarks Thursday about seriously contemplating live streaming, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Supreme Court judge and chairperson of its e-committee, had also said that live-streaming of court proceedings was on the brink of becoming a reality.

(Edited by Rachel John)

Also read: Start-ups and AI can rescue choked Indian courts


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