Once when the case for allowing cameras in court-rooms came up in front of the US Supreme court, the sitting judge rejected the appeal and quoted saying: “I think the case is so strong, that I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”
Judicial systems across the world historically have shied away from media attention, and the case of Indian judiciary is no different. The call for judicial reforms in the country has been a subject that generates a lot of interest among the media and the civic society. Each and every time the issue emerges , there are a series of discussions in this regard, both at the societal and administrative levels. The recent news conference of four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court itself proves the need for the judicial reforms in the country. Adding to these are the recent appeals from the legal circles for the live telecast of the court proceedings through the streaming services and telecasting platforms. The proponents of ‘recorded court-room proceedings’ argue that the move will further increase the transparency of the judicial system in the country. Those of who oppose, on the other hand, make their point on the fact that this ‘reform’ will bring the judges and the courtrooms under immense pressure since they are being watched by everyone. After all, the judges are not answerable to anyone except the constitution itself. Since judiciary is the guardian of fundamental rights and constitution, this proposal can have an ever-lasting impact on the way democracy operates in the country.
The Indian judicial system is known for its transparency and opaqueness. It is transparent as the judiciary has never worked with the other branches of the democracy to cause chaos, as it is several other countries. It is opaque because judicial appointments and allotment of cases are at the discretion of the judiciary itself, without any pre-determined laws or procedures. However, traditionally there has been a balance between both, creating a unique situation of fair and just judicial practices. However, there have been calls from various corners to improve the standards of transparency further and one way, they believe, is through the public telecast of the court proceedings, including the trial and the final pronouncement of the judgement by the court. Though this appears to be a noble measure to improve the judicial machinery, it lacks pragmatism.
In a democratic country, people become the supreme voice; even the constitution derives its life and blood from the people. Similarly, the judicial system also has some moral responsibility that they owe to the people; the responsibility to serve unbiased, fair judgments. However, this does not necessarily imply that the judges are answerable to the public opinion. The courts are neither answerable to the public or the legislature; they are only answerable to the law of the land, which is the constitution. Now if we try to make the judges accountable through the public broadcast of the court-proceedings, this, in turn, may lead to the public opinion exerting pressure on the judicial process. Whereas the legislators retain their powers through the popularity they enjoy, the judiciary requires no such backing as their tenure and powers are fixed. Which in turn means that even in those cases where the public wants a specific form of punishment served to the convicts, the court may have to act otherwise owing to the legal requirements. For example, even when the public wanted a death penalty for the minor convict in the Nirbhaya case, the court ruled otherwise, as there was no provision to treat a minor as an adult in rape cases at that point of time. Similarly, most of the court proceedings will have a lot of legal jargons and technical terms, that might be beyond the cognitive abilities of the common man. Though sometimes the court may appear mistaken and biased in the eyes of the spectators, that may not be the case in reality. Even the mere knowledge of the fact that the public is watching may make both the lawyers and the judges to respond to this consciousness than their common sense. There are also high chances that the media, many a times ‘biased’, can use the oral observations of the judges to portray them in a manner that will yield higher TRP ratings. This might also tarnish the public perception of the judge and the court-rooms in the long run. The proponents of the court-room videography often cite the examples of the courts in Canada, which has a live telecast of the court-proceedings. However, it must be noted that in the case of such courts, including the Canadian Supreme Court, the average number of cases that they handle is a miniscule compared to those in India. This may, in turn, cause serious logistical and data management issues and add a further burden over the under-funded judiciary.
One way to use audio-video instruments for a transparent judiciary without actually halting the legal procedure would be through an initiative, where the audio-video recordings of the court proceedings would be made available through the archives of court proceedings in said formats. So when an affected party raises concerns over the judicial outcome and pitches in for review petition, these archived recordings may be used for the benefit of the court to re-evaluate its own decision. Or maybe in the case of landmark judgments that can impact a larger section of the society (like the court verdict on Triple Talaq or the declaration of privacy as a fundamental right), such recording could be made available in the public domain after stipulated period of time– like how the secret files are declassified after certain years. Beyond this, any attempt to bring what happens in the court to the public may do more harm than good to the Indian judicial system. Of course, building bridges is preferred, but sometimes, you just need walls.
– Contributed by Jiss
Picture Credits: Yahoo News