Live telecast and video recording of court proceedings

Rohit Kapoor
For the first time in the history of Madras High Court, the court proceedings were telecast live through large monitors outside the building. The proceedings were telecast live outside the court through a LED television, since the entry to the Court hall was restricted to a few advocates who were related to the case. Mumbai Based Advocate had also addressed a letter to the Chief Justice of India to permit video recording of NJAC hearing as it was being followed by many in the Country and the court room itself could not accommodate more than 200 people. Now and then, extraordinary cases come up.  In 1995, the criminal trial of O. J. Simpson murder case was televised for 134 days. And   many of you must have seen the trial of “Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius (Widely known as Blade Runner) went on trial in Pretoria, South Africa, for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The trial was broadcast live across the world on television from court room in South Africa. I must hasten to add here, the live telecast of criminal trial was itself not without criticism.
Speaking to media in October 2015, Law Minister V. Sadananda Gowda expressed his eagerness to live telecast of all Court proceedings.
The Supreme Court of Canada provides a live feed of all appeals to the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery. The Supreme Court of Victoria in Australia permits audio webcasts of some judgments and sentences are streamed live and are available for listening to on demand. The hearings before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.
The Calcutta High Court created history on July 15, 2015   when Justice Aniruddha Bose directed recording of court room proceedings in a particular case, thereby creating a rare, first of its kind precedent. Acting on an order passed by Justice Aniruddha Bose, the Registry of the Calcutta High Court made all arrangements and installed a video camera and a microphone inside court. The proceedings on July 15 were recorded for nearly 45 minutes.
Justice Bose however added a caveat that “the proceedings being recorded today shall not form part of the official records of this court”. The order clarified that the recording would be for the purpose of assistance of the court, and such recording shall not be made available to any party or outsider unless otherwise directed by it. Justice Bose also added that the “court shall have the power and authority to make necessary editing of the recorded version, removing any part there from which this court considers it necessary to avoid any scandalous or undesirable or irrelevant matter to remain on record”.
Eminent Jurist H.M. Seervai had spearheaded the demand for recording of Court proceedings. The proposal for audio-video recording of court proceedings was mooted by the Union Government during the advisory council meeting of the Law ministry held in August 2014 which was attended by the then Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, law commission chairman Justice (retd.) A.P. Shah and representative of the apex court’s e-committee besides top officials of the law ministry. The government had proposed to initiate audio-video recording of all court proceedings in all the subordinate courts to start with and then in all the High Courts and the Apex Court. The proposal was however reportedly rejected in November by the Apex Court’s e-committee.
Eminent Jurist H.M. Seervai had spearheaded the demand for recording of Court proceedings. The proposal for audio-video recording of court proceedings was mooted by the Union Government during the advisory council meeting of the Law ministry held in August 2014 which was attended by the then Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, law commission chairman Justice (retd.) A.P. Shah and representative of the apex court’s e-committee besides top officials of the law ministry. The proposal was however rejected in November by the Apex Court’s e-committee the proposal saying this was not acceptable at present.
Justice Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, again in July 2015, brought up the issue in the meeting of the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms which was chaired by Union Law minister Sadananda Gowda. Justice Shah firmly believed there was no reason for opposing such a proposal as it would only help in bringing more accountability to the judiciary.
In January 2015, a Bench of the Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice H L Dattu had dismissed a PIL which asked for installation of cameras inside the court halls of the top court. Not just the Supreme Court, even the High Courts in India have not accepted pleas for video recording of court proceedings.
On September 26, 2011,  Bombay High Court had rejected an application filed by activist demanding video graphing the proceedings in his petition challenging the 2009 Lok Sabha victory of Congress MP Priya Dutt on the ground that there was no such policy decision. Ironically, the Bombay High Court had on September 12 observed that videography of court proceedings can deter frivolous allegations against judges and, if broadcast, reduce crowding on court premises. But the court changed its stance after an affidavit filed by Registrar (Legal & Research) on September 26 that said video recording of court proceedings “may lead to serious and complex issues of practice and procedure and may also lead to misuse given that during the course of the hearing the learned judge may tentatively express his opinion.”
Currently the US Supreme Court website provides access to audio recordings of all oral arguments before it, which may be downloaded or heard online. The audio recordings of all oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court of the United States are available to the public at the end of each argument week.  The public have the option to either download the audio files or listen to the recordings on the Court’s Web site.   The audio recordings are listed by case name, docket number, and the date of oral argument.  The Court began audio recording oral arguments in 1955.  The recordings are maintained at The National Archives and Records Administration.
Justice Aniruddha Bose’s order allowing recording of court proceedings even though issued in the context of a particular case may give a fillip to the movement seeking greater transparency in judicial proceedings in India.  The order may perhaps be interpreted as a sign that judicial reluctance is slowly yielding to demands for more open justice.  Speaking to The Telegraph, Law Minister V. Sadananda October 2015 said ;”What all proceedings are going in the courts should be made known to each and every person in the country, not only the litigant but even the interested parties should be able to see what things are going inside the court. It will happen, it will happen”.
(The author is an advocate)
For feedback and views, Email; rohit_kapoor@hotmail.com
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