‘Live-streaming court proceedings open to misuse’: CJI Bobde
“In principle, I agree that there should be live streaming but in practice, you must hear me. As CJI, I have to deal with so many complaints over the virtual court proceedings,” Bobde said.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” the Supreme Court had observed in September 2018 in a judgment that paved the way for live streaming of court proceedings. Two years down the line, Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde on Monday said that in practice, live streaming will be misused as he is already facing several complaints over the virtual hearing taking place over the videoconferencing app VIdyo.
Sharing thoughts on live-streaming as part of suo moto proceedings for Court’s functioning during Covid-19 pandemic, CJI Bobde, heading a 3-judge bench said, “In principle, I agree that there should be live streaming but in practice, you must hear me. As CJI, I have to deal with so many complaints over the virtual court proceedings.”
The observation followed a suggestion by Attorney General KK Venugopal who insisted that since Gujarat High Court had taken the lead in live-streaming the proceedings, the Supreme Court can follow suit. In September 2018, the Supreme Court had considered this issue in a PIL filed by Swapnil Tripathi and gave it’s go-ahead considering all constitutional aspects involved in this exercise.
Venugopal reminded CJI, “Now there is a judgment requiring the Court to have live-streaming. I was satisfied watching the live streaming of proceedings in the Gujarat High Court.” The bench, also comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and LN Rao said, “There can be some negative use or abuse of live streaming.” Justice Chandrachud, who heads the e-committee of the Supreme Court responsible for enhancing virtual court proceedings, told Venugopal that a delay of 20 seconds occurs between the live streaming and actual proceedings in the Gujarat High Court. This ensures a check on nothing untoward going live.
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Justice Chandrachud revealed that at present the Supreme Court is focusing on enhancing the video conferencing facility. “The idea is to have one video conferencing facility for all High Courts and district courts and a separate facility for Supreme Court. Bids have been invited for managing the entire videoconferencing facility,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The rules for conducting such hearing have been finalised by a committee of High Court judges. District courts too would be able to virtually record evidence during trial as 11 out of 25 High Courts have adopted these rules as per area-specific requirements and changes. The remaining High Courts have the option to adopt Rules framed by the e-committee, the bench said.
For better connectivity, the CJI sought Centre’s help to access optical fibre network. “In states which do not have fibre optics coverage, we have to rely on satellites,” CJI Bobde said. The Supreme Court e-committee is also working on setting up E-Seva Kendras, one each in over 3,300 court complexes across the country, to provide easy access to lawyers who face difficulties in accessing virtual courtrooms.
On the aspect of providing optical fibre network, senior advocate Harish Salve, who was appearing in another case, entered the matter through videoconferencing and offered help on behalf of his client, Reliance Jio. Though Jio is not party to the current proceedings, Salve said, “My client Jio has the best optical fibre network and they offer it at an inexpensive rate.”
The bench allowed Salve to tell his client to formally make an offer to the e-committee. The Court also entertained an application filed by senior advocate Vikas Singh, who suggested that even when the Court resumes physical hearing during normal days, videoconferencing should be continued for a certain category of cases with waiting room facility for lawyers and kiosks for media persons to witness the proceedings virtually.