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Live transcription of Supreme Court proceedings introduced

By, New Delhi
Feb 22, 2023 05:47 AM IST

The Supreme Court on Tuesday introduced live transcription of court proceedings for the first time in the country, employing artificial intelligence and high-tech tools.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday introduced live transcription of court proceedings for the first time in the country, employing artificial intelligence (AI) and high-tech tools.

Justice Chandrachud informed the lawyers that a screen displaying the live transcription of court proceedings has been placed in the court hall 1, facing the lawyers. (ANI)
Justice Chandrachud informed the lawyers that a screen displaying the live transcription of court proceedings has been placed in the court hall 1, facing the lawyers. (ANI)

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud announced that the live transcription will commence on an experimental basis with the constitution bench hearing on the vertical split last year in Shiv Sena, which triggered a tussle between Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde for control of the political party.

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The latest endeavour adds to a long list of technological reforms, including live-streaming, digitisation of court records, online RTI portal, digital courts desktop application, e-filing and online appearance slip for lawyers, driven by justice Chandrachud, who is also chairman of the e-Committee.

As soon as the constitution bench, led by the CJI assembled on Wednesday morning, justice Chandrachud informed the lawyers that a screen displaying the live transcription of court proceedings has been placed in the court hall 1, facing the lawyers.

Also read: After getting Sena symbol, Eknath Shinde files caveat in SC

“You can see that screen there. We are trying to explore live-transcription of our proceedings and we will do it on an experimental basis with this case. If the experiment works well, we will have a permanent record of the arguments. This will not only help the lawyers but also the students from law colleges who can know how these important cases were argued before the Supreme Court,” he told the lawyers present in the court hall.

The CJI was emphatic that live-transcription will help create resources and will be a “great record” for the top court to have.

Justice PS Narasimha joined in: “This court will then be truly a court of record. Every word, every argument will be recorded and will be there for all times to come.”

While solicitor general Tushar Mehta and senior counsel Kapil Sibal applauded the introduction of live-transcription, justice MR Shah, another judge on the five-member bench, had a word of caution. “The information is being shared so that the lawyers should not interrupt each other during the arguments. Otherwise, it will be difficult to record anything with clarity,” said the judge.

At this point, the CJI added: “If there are two or more voices at the same time, there will be some problem. We do have the technicians who will later clear the voices. After the hearing is over, lawyers will be given copies of their arguments for vetting too. We are starting with such a mechanism, and we hope it works out well.”

Justice Narasimha, on his part, advised lawyers appearing through video-conferencing to raise their hands if they must mention something and refrain from interfering when another lawyer is already arguing.

The US Supreme Court provides audio and text transcripts of the proceedings. Many local courts in the US also make a stenographic record of most court proceedings. In the UK, a litigant can ask for a transcript of the court proceedings for a fee if the hearing is recorded.

Earlier this month, senior advocate Indira Jaising had implored the CJI to consider preparing audio transcripts of the important court cases. Jaising, who was one of the petitioners in the matter that led to the 2018 Supreme Court verdict that declared the live telecast of court proceedings part of the right to access justice under Article 21 of the Constitution. The 2018 judgment by a three-judge bench, of which justice Chandrachud was also a member who penned a separate judgment favouring the plea, stated that it is necessary for the judiciary to move apace with technology to promote a greater degree of confidence in the judicial process.

Subsequently, Supreme Court’s e-Committee, headed by justice Chandrachud, came out with model guidelines to regulate live-streaming of court proceedings in India.

In the last week of August 2022, the Supreme Court live-streamed its first proceedings, more than three years after a top court ruling recommended live-streaming its hearings. The move was, however, confined to the proceedings of a ceremonial bench that bid adieu to then CJI NV Ramana.

In September 2022, a full court, comprising all judges of the top court, decided to live-stream constitution bench proceedings on a regular basis with the e-Committee leading the move. Currently, all constitution bench proceedings are live-streamed.

With justice Chandrachud at the helm, e-Committee has come out with a bundle of novel steps after the highest court’s push for public access and transparency through live-streaming.

In January, the CJI launched the electronic Supreme Court Reports (e-SCR) project to provide the digital version of the Supreme Court’s judgments in the manner as they are reported in the official law report - ‘Supreme Court Reports’ (SCR). The e-SCR, which has more than 34,000 judgments available, accords free access to the official law reports of the Supreme Court’s reported Judgments to the law students, lawyers, and other legal professionals and to the public at large with special tools for the accessibility to those with visual disabilities as well. The move followed digitisation and scanning of SCRs from 1950 to 2017 and preserving the same in digitised soft copy in the format of PDF (Portable Document Format).

Last month, the CJI also set up a panel for the translation of top court’s judgments into regional languages, and 3,132 judgments translated in Indian languages are now available. The ‘AI assisted Legal Translation Advisory Committee’ has also been constituted to assess and monitor the progress of and to suggest measures to further enhance usage of Artificial Intelligence tools for translating judicial records in various vernacular languages in the top court.

In an endeavour to make the court registry go paperless, justice Chandrachud also introduced an online portal for the lawyers to mark their appearance in cases. As on February 15, around 1.5 lakh online appearance slips have been submitted and equal number of paper sheets, if not more, have been saved, according to the court administration.

The CJI, earlier this year, also introduced a new email policy for all internal communication within the Supreme Court, encouraging the court employees to reduce the consumption of paper.

In November 2022, the CJI also launched an online Right To Information (RTI) portal, facilitating the access of information about the top court that is a public authority under the transparency law. During the hearing of a PIL on this issue in September, the CJI had announced that the work on the online portal was underway and that it should be ready within two months. The portal has received more than 450 applications till date, as per the administration.

The CJI also directed the top court administration to continue hearing in physical-hybrid mode while ascertaining that the video-conference infrastructure and services are up and running 24×7. Since November 9, 2022 (when justice Chandrachud took over as the CJI) until February 15, 2023, the Supreme Court witnessed 2.54 lakh attendees for virtual hearings. Further, during the same period, 43 hearings of constitution bench cases through YouTube and NIC webcast services have been live-streamed, according to the people cited above.

During a hearing on February 13, the CJI asserted that the technology as an enabler of open court philosophy and access to justice “is here to stay” and cannot depend on the liking of the high court chief justices. Hearing a clutch of petitions that sought access to justice through virtual courts as a matter of fundamental right for the litigants, the judge emphasised that the infrastructure created using public money for virtual proceedings cannot be allowed to go waste, adding he would soon be delivering a pertinent order on this aspect.

Recently, the top court also organised its first-ever hackathon to solicit innovative ideas for making the procedure of filing and listing of cases in the top court more efficient. Several participants participated in the brainstorming session to come up with ideas for upgrading the ecosystem by generating out-of-the-box solutions.

Based on a proposal of the e-Committee, the central government has recently earmarked a budget of 7,000 crore for the third phase of e-court project.

Last month, Union law minister Kiren Rijiju commended justice Chandrachud for his work as the chairperson of the e-Committee while disclosing that he had requested the judge to continue heading the committee even after taking over as the CJI and not nominating someone else. Justice Chandrachud retires on November 10, 2024.

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