Video Recordings to end the Opacity in the Courts

Parmanand Pandey

It is an oft-repeated saying that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. There is no denying that transparency in every sphere of life works like auto-cleaner while the opacity breeds suspicion and corruption. It is, therefore, indeed laudable that the Supreme Court has taken up the cause of transparency in the right earnest by directing the audio-video recording of the court proceedings across the country. The benefits of video recordings will far outweigh the disadvantages and bring order and solemnity to the proceedings. It has been a long-standing demand of the people throughout the country that the proceedings of the court should be recorded to ensure good conduct of the advocates and the judges.
It may be mentioned that the Chief Justice of India and the Prime minister have already spoken about the setting up of e-courts in the country as a method of reducing pending litigation and introducing transparency. There are several systems of e-courts that are successfully functioning in other countries. One major benefit of this system, which could be introduced even in our existing system, is the transcription of court proceedings, which can be recorded electronically verbatim and transcribed instantly. The transcripts can be made available to the parties of the proceedings at the end of the day. There are serious advantages of this system for all – the judges, lawyers and parties to the litigation. Since every word of the arguments gets recorded, transparency and clarity are inherent. This brings ease when a case is taken in appeal or an order is up for review. Counsel too benefit by having details of arguments recorded for the next day’s preparation in the case. The litigants have complete clarity on their case even if not present in court. A win-win for all. With the availability of technology, this system would be an excellent way to introduce E-Systems.
Video recording of the proceedings is a path-breaking and tectonic change in the functioning of the Indian courts. Although Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code already provides that ‘the place in which any criminal court is held for the purpose of inquiring into or trying any offence shall be deemed to be an open court to which the public generally may have access’. The second part of the same section says for the in-camera trial of causes related to rapes. Therefore, this direction of the Supreme court is the major extension of the procedure that is laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code. It is here the technology will come into full play for the enormous benefit of the people. Till now the general public and others have been depending on the sketchy and many times lop-sided reporting of the proceedings by the media. This has also caused a number of times consternation among the people, advocates and judges.
One observation of the Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice U.U. Lalit will go down in the history in golden letters that ‘there is no privacy in the court, what comes to the court is all public’. The Judges, in the course of the hearing, also said that constitutional courts in other countries have already the provision of audio and video recording because it is not a matter of the privacy of the judges. Citing the example of the Supreme Court of United States of America the bench said that their proceedings are also available on the ‘YouTube’.
The beginning of the end of opacity, in fact, started on 28th March this year when the Supreme Court directed that at least two districts in every State and Union Territory shall install CCTV cameras at important locations in court complexes. Later in the next date of hearing the Court further observed that ‘the Supreme Court and the High courts are the courts of the records being the constitutional courts, therefore, everything should be recorded as long as it does not impede the proceedings’. The Court said that though our earlier direction was to install CCTV cameras in two districts in every State/Union Territory, with the experience now gained, it is desirable that CCTV cameras are installed in all courts.
Pursuant to the direction of the Supreme Court the Union Law Ministry swung into motion and it found to its pleasant surprise that fifteen High Courts of the country have already implemented it and other High Courts are in the process of installing the CCTV cameras. The Additional Solicitor General Ms Pinky Anand, who appeared for the Central government produced an affidavit setting out the progress made in this regard. It reveals that most of the fifteen high courts that replied have followed the Supreme Court’s direction to set up CCTV facilities in at least two districts, and are using a phased approach to do the same in other districts. In addition to these High Courts, as many as nine tribunals, including the NCLAT, TDSAT, CAT and IPAB, also responded with progress on the issue. Nine high courts – those of Bombay, Gauhati, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand – are yet to respond.
In spite of the open court hearings, the reporting of the court proceedings has been a zealously guarded affair. The to and fro between lawyers and judges, the submission made by the advocates and questions asked from the bench and reply there too given by the advocates have hitherto been beyond the eye of the camera or the ear of a recorder. Hence it will be, without doubt, a paradigm shift in the Supreme Court reporting. It may be noted here that only a few years ago, the proceedings of the Parliament and various legislative assemblies of the country were not within the reach of the common man of the country. Only the accredited correspondents were allowed to see the proceedings of the legislatures for report purposes. The general public could enter the halls of the legislatures and Parliament only by visitors’ pass issued on the recommendations of the Members of Parliaments or MLAs. But after the availability of the proceedings of the Parliament and Legislatures on television, it has become wide open to the whole world. The general public can now know as to what is being done by their elected representatives and is free to form its opinion about the performance of the Government and the opposition on the basis of the audio-visual recordings which are available on the television, computer or mobile screens.
There are, however, many practical difficulties which may come in the way of recordings and the airing of the proceedings of hundreds of courts across the country. In case of Parliament, there are only two Houses which can be easily televised directly. But in the case of the televising the court proceedings, it will not be possible through one or two exclusive channels for showing the court proceedings. For example, as on today, there are fifteen courts in the Supreme Court of India. It will be unimaginable to beam the proceedings of all courts. Similarly, there are 28 High Courts in the country having hundreds of courtrooms making it well-nigh impossible to televise their proceedings. So, a different mechanism has to be found out. One of them is to have an archive of the recordings and appoint a group of editors to look into the cases which are worthy to be televised and take a decision accordingly.
It hardly needs to be emphasised that audio-video records of the court proceedings will remove all doubts and apprehensions of the people with regard to happenings in the court and it will be immensely useful for the students, teachers and advocates of the court. Although, a group of lawyers is of the view that recording of proceedings should not be made a spectacle because arguments might get more favoured for the cameras than for anything else, nevertheless for overwhelmingly large number of lawyers it would lead to public education helping in the formation of public opinion.