Welcome move for transparency
The Chief Justice of India’s suggestion to extend livestreaming to district courts is a key judicial reform
For most Indians, the first brush with the judicial system takes place at the district court level, whether it be civil cases involving family disputes or property quarrels or criminal charges ranging from petty theft to murder and assault. It is also at the district level that an overwhelming majority of the 47 million pending cases in the Indian judicial system are piled up, so it makes sense that any court reform would need to begin at, and focus on, the district.
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud made a bold suggestion on this matter over the weekend, suggesting livestreaming of proceedings in district courts. Speaking at the 20th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday, the CJI said one of the greatest dangers to institutions in a constitutional democracy was opacity and backed opening up of internal processes, thereby generating a degree of accountability, transparency and a sense of responsiveness to the needs of citizens. He said that livestreaming needed to be operationalised not only for the big-ticket cases but also everyday proceedings at the district level, which is the first interface of the citizen with the judicial system.
The CJI is right. The apex court began livestreaming the proceedings of select Constitution Bench cases last September, after a 2018 verdict laid the ground for live webcasting of important cases. This was hailed as an important reform because citizens can better appreciate the judicial system and the process of reasoning and application of mind that shapes judicial functioning. For an institution that is a critical pillar of India’s democracy, inculcating such an understanding is important to its legitimacy and popular standing.
While this was a good move – after all, in cases of national and constitutional importance, every citizen is a de facto stakeholder – the real test of the system will be in opening up the proceedings of the district court system, largely because of the sheer volume of cases before it. Authorities will also have to keep an eye on potential misuse, malicious editing and morphing of livestream videos, concerns of privacy and secrecy, especially in cases involving an individual or a family’s sensitive personal details, and some people using the livestream for grandstanding or nefarious purposes. But these cannot be allowed to become deterrents because, as the CJI said, the citizens have a right to know what’s happening in the courts. And because, as he pointed out, sunlight is the best disinfectant.