Case Analysis: Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India

There are a large number of cases pending in Indian courts and considering this situation it might not be possible for everyone to attend the sessions of apex court because of infrastructural restrictions, security reasons, time constraints and other formalities involved in courts. On any given day, the Supreme Court is heavily packed with Advocates, litigants, staff members, government officials and police officers and because of this, law students and interns are unable to attend the court’s sessions. Various petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court for the live streaming of the sessions of the court.

Many petitioners claimed that cases of national importance that affect the public at large should be displayed for live streaming and it was upheld in the case of Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India[1]. It was also put forward that the apex court should determine the criteria for determining the cases that should be streamed and the exceptional cases that do not fall within this ambit. People representing public interest argued that this step would further help the government to promote transparency and open justice system.

Brief Facts of the Case

In 2017, various activists, law students, lawyers and groups (Swapnil Tripathi, Indira Jaisingh, Mathewes J. Nedumpara and the Centre for Accountability and Systematic Change) filed a petition before the Apex Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution seeking permission that the apex court should allow live streaming of cases that have an impact on a large number of people and are of constitutional importance so that people can easily access the justice system and therefore making this process more transparent. Article 32 deals with the constitutional remedies and writs and this article give power to a person to move to the Supreme Court if he/ she believes that their fundamental right has been violated. Moreover, the petitioners sought guidelines/ criteria from the courts based on which it will decide what cases are appropriate and suitable for streaming considering the sensitivity of each case.

The petitioners, in this case, based their arguments on the decision given in the case of Naresh Shridhar Mirjkar v. State of Maharashtra[2]. In the above case, it was held that the journalists had the right to publish the reports of the court under Article 19 of the Constitution, and the court also stressed on the open trials for upholding the credibility and transparency of the justice system.

Petitioners’ Arguments

  1. Article 21 guarantees the Right of Access to Justice and this right would be effective only if the public gets access to the court proceedings.
  2. Matters that affect the public at large or a large group of people having constitutional importance should be live-streamed.
  3. It would be easy for the general public to view the proceedings.
  4. It would reduce the unwarranted crowd at the apex court.
  5. It would incentivize the learning process for law students and interns.
  6. It would make the public aware of the contemporary issues that are dealt with by the honourable court.
  7. This step would further concretize the confidence of the public in the judicial process and transparency.

Respondents’ Arguments

  1. Cases dealing with sensitive issues like sexual harassment, rape and matrimonial issues won’t be streamed.
  2. The honourable apex court shall lay the model guidelines for conducting live streaming of cases
  3.  Due permission from the concerned authority must be taken before the live streaming of cases.
  4. At any given point of time, the permission given can be revoked by the concerned authorities if they have a genuine reason to believe that there is a violation of any procedure.
  5. There should be a proper regulatory committee and framework that would be looking after this process.

Live Streaming Laws in Various Countries and Organizations

There are various other countries in which live streaming of cases is allowed by the authorities. The countries are listed as follows:

1) Australia:

  1. The recording of proceedings of the High Court of Australia is published on its official website from time to time.
  2. The audio-visual recordings of the court proceedings of The High Court of Australia are available on its official website since 1st October 2013, held in Canberra.
  3. The High Court has laid out certain terms and conditions in which the recordings are to be used, these include copyright restrictions and prior permission has to be obtained from the court and concerned authorities.

2) England:

  1. Until 2005, taking an audio or visual recording of the court proceedings amounted to contempt of court in England.
  2. Currently, the Supreme Court allows the media to live stream the court proceedings and for that matter, they are also recorded.
  3. But under section 41 of Criminal Justice Act, 1925 no one is allowed to take photographs for publishing, of any judge, witness or any party in the proceedings in the court, whether it being a civil or criminal case, if anyone does so he must be fined no more than fifty pounds.

3) International Criminal Court (ICC)

  1. The International Criminal Court also allows the live streaming of the court proceedings.
  2. These proceedings are broadcasted after 30 min. of actual court proceedings so that there is no leak of any secret information and the ICC can keep a check on it.
  3. The ICC broadcasts all the programmes related to cases, press conferences, outreach programmes on its official channel and also on its youtube channel.
  4. The viewers can follow various cases through the official website on which the ICC even posts the summary of the proceedings.

There are various ways in which live streaming will benefit the common public and the judiciary:

1. With the help of this process within a few seconds, the courtroom proceeding is telecasted to the public and they will not have to wait for even the decision. They will know it as soon as the judge declares the judgement.

2. Our constitution gives us the right to information and by the way of live streaming people can exercise this right and they will get to know how the court proceedings take place and how the decisions are taken by a judge.

3. People will not have to wait for the reports from the media and news agencies instead they can directly see the proceedings without any hindrance. This whole process would make the judicial functioning more transparent and credible as they will get the direct, first-hand and unbiased information without the intervention of the journalists and the media agencies. In this can educate and make themselves aware of the latest socio-legal developments.

5. It would help people to understand how the judicial and legal system of our country works as a part of the democracy and it will even promote the research skills among the law students.

The extensive guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court are persuasive and they shall adhere to the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 under Article 145(1) including (i) the category of Cases that are to be streamed, (ii) due to authorisation for live broadcasting, (iii) time slots when the live streaming will be done, (iv) media agencies that are authorised for broadcasting the court proceedings, (v) setting guidelines regarding the usage of information. With the help of just a click, people can access the proceedings of the Supreme Court. Modernisation has been made possible because of the technology, this was said in the case of Santhini v. Vijaya Venketes[3] and it was also affirmed in case of Krishna Veni Nagam v. Harish Nagam[4].

Category of Cases that can be Live Streamed

Cases under the following categories are exempted from live streaming:

  1. Matrimonial matters,
  2. Cases involving sensitive matters like that of sexual harassment or rape,
  3. Matters about juveniles, Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences(POCSO) cases.

The live-streamed videos are available on the official website of the apex court. By the end of each day, the recordings that are broadcasted on a particular day are made available on the official website of the court. The audiovisual recording commences as soon as the honourable judges arrive in the court and it goes on till the proceedings get over. The presiding judge is empowered to stop the live streaming at any moment he feels necessary for the sake of justice. There shall be a delay of at least two minutes before the live streaming is done. The live streaming shall be continued until the moment the judge asks to terminate the broadcasting.

To ensure that the judges and the advocates are audible during the broadcasting they must use microphones. In case of Joint Anti- Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath[5] it was held that with the help of live streaming people get to witness the direct interaction between the judges and the advocates, this makes aware about the functioning of the courts. The recording of the proceedings is done by the registry under the supervision of National Informatics Centre or any other organisation that is duly authorized by the apex court. When a judge does not permit certain part of proceeding to be broadcasted, then that specific portion should not be included in the official records and it shall be archived separately as “confidential recordings”. In Mohd. Shahabuddin v. State of Bihar[6], the court examined the challenge raised by Patna High Court declaring the premises for conducting a trial.

Judgement at a Glance

1. Live streaming flows from Article 21 which guarantees the right of access to justice.

2. Article 145(4) of Constitution lays down provision for declaring Judgements in open court.

3. Amendments in Supreme Court Rules, 2013.

4. Supreme Court laid down guidelines for regulating the process of live streaming.

Overview of the Judgement

The Supreme Court while agreeing with the petitioners’ arguments said that cases dealing with issues that are of national importance and affect the public at large should be live-streamed. This will promote an open justice system and the administration of justice in our society. This step would also reduce the congestion in the courts due to unwarranted crowd and it will create a learning atmosphere for the law students and interns and even the general public. The court also held that it is a well-settled principle that the Article 19(1)(a) empowers the public to obtain information and the right to know and through this Article, the public is empowered to witness the court proceedings. Ignorance of the law cannot be pleaded by anyone so it duty of the courts to make people aware and educate them about various legal developments

The apex court requested the Attorney General to frame guidelines to regulate the live streaming procedure. The court also stated that while exercising the right to access of justice there is a need to protect the privacy of the parties in the case. It was noted that right to access of justice is a part of Article 21 and the courts also must make people aware about the legal developments in the country as no person can claim ignorance of the law. It was also agreed that there is express provision for an open court hearing which is laid under article 145(4) of the constitution. With use, this technology people will able to witness courtroom proceedings which in turn would also promote accountability, transparency and good governance on behalf of the government and the judiciary.

[1] Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India, [2018] 10 SCC 639

[2] Naresh Shridhar Mirjkar v. the State of Maharashtra, [1996] 3 S.C.R 744

[3] Santhini v. Vijaya Venketes, [2018] 1 SCC 1

[4] Krishna Veni Nagam v. Harish Nagam, [2017] 4 SCC 150

[5] Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, [1951] SCC OnLine US SC 48

[6] Mohd. Shahbuddin v. the State of Bihar, [2010] 4 SCC 653

Bhavik Jain from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab

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