Law Minister V. Sadananda Gowda supports live telecast of Court Proceedings

Law Minister V. Sadananda Gowda supports live telecast of Court Proceedings

Speaking to The Telegraph, Law Minister V. Sadananda Gowda has expressed his eagerness to live telecast of all Court proceedings. The possibility of acceptance of the proposal however, depends upon the validity of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, to be determined by the Supreme Court, he said

Mr. Gowda was quoted as saying, “After the completion of the second phase of the 'e-court mission' project it will be easier for us to go ahead. Certainly a day should come when everything should be transparent. 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.”

He said that the Government intends to spend Rs 1,750 crore towards the second phase of the “e-courts mission” that, among other things, will include setting up a national judicial data grid, and completing computerization of courts. The UPA Government had spent about Rs. 3, 000 crore under the first phase, contributing to the computerization of ninety percent of the courts in the country. Appreciating the grid that was started only last week, Mr. Gowda said, “Now each client, each judge and everybody can see how many cases are there (in a particular court), which are the cases posted, when they will come up for hearing... everything is available… We want to see the project go ahead. E-filing (petitions) has already been taken up. Delay will be reduced.” You may read more about the National Judicial Data Grid here.

Mr. Gowda further divulged that a Bill for changing the names of the High Courts of Bombay and Madras will be introduced in the winter session of the Parliament. The Bill will lead to immediate change in the name of the Bombay High Court to Mumbai High Court and Madras High Court to Chennai High Court. It will also prescribe a procedure for future requests for change. Only a notification would suffice, in case the State Government requested a name change.

Changes to be introduced in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 were also confirmed by Gowda. He further confirmed that the Centre had granted permission to Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to represent the private bar owners’ lobby against Kerala Government.

Eminent Jurist H.M. Seervai had spearheaded the demand for recording of Court proceedings to reign in a "much talking" judge and a counsel who thrived on lies. “The recollections of judges may differ, or if the case has gone for a long time, judges may have no recollection,” he said, while stressing on the advantage. Subsequent demands for coverage were however rejected by most courts in the country.

Back in 2008, a bench headed by the then Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan had refused to interfere with a High Court order dismissing such a demand. “What happened in the OJ Simpson case? A debate is still going on,” a Judge on the bench had remarked, referring to sensationalization following telecast of the trial in the US. “If Parliament can allow recording of proceedings, why not courts?” Petitioner's counsel Prashant Bhushan had asked. The court, however, was not convinced.

In February, 2011, a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court had dismissed a plea for video recording of proceedings filed by Mr. Deepak Khosla, a Delhi Businessman. Justice S.N. Dhingra had shown his support for the plea then, highlighting the need for recording Court proceedings. He had observed, “In my view audio and video recording shall help smooth functioning of the district courts where the district judges and civil judges work in adverse circumstances and do not have power of contempt. When they refer matters of contempt to the high court pleas are taken that incident had not happened or a manipulated version was put forward.”

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 rejected in November by the Apex Court’s e-committee. You may read the LiveLaw story here.

Justice Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, had again in July this year, 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. “A proposal may be considered to undertake audio-video recording on a pilot basis in some district courts because such a step can enhance transparency in the justice system,” he is reported to have said at the meeting. You may read the LiveLaw story here.

Mumbai Based Advocate Mathews Nedumpara 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. In his letter he had stated, “Ordinary citizen is baffled at the opposition, though not expressed in so many words, which some quarters harbour, for video-recording and telecast of Court proceedings.  All are expected to wholeheartedly support it, for, the Supreme Court is a Court of record and there cannot be a better mechanism for recording proceedings than video-recording.  Right to information is held to be an essential facet of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The Supreme Court has been out of bounds for audio video recording of proceedings. In January this year, a Bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu had dismissed a PIL which asked for installation of cameras inside the court halls of the top court.

The CJI had then orally remarked: “You want to put CCTV in the court? Right now whatever we discuss in the innermost chamber is also out there in the public. What we discuss among judges in the collegium meetings are also out in public. There is no need for CCTV.”

However, in July this year, Calcutta High Court broke the trend and recorded Court Room proceedings, on continuous requests by Advocate Deepak Khosla so that there is incontrovertible evidence of conduct of the counsel on the other side. The proceedings on July 15 were recorded for nearly 45 minutes. Justice Aniruddha Bose however clarified that the proceedings would not form part of the official records of the Court and that they would be for the purpose of assistance of the Court. This was in view of the fact that neither the Supreme Court, nor any High Court had framed any rule for such recording. You may read the LiveLaw story here.

Madras High Court had also recently allowed for live telecast of court proceedings for the first time when contempt of court proceedings against two Madurai-based Bar leaders were taken up in connection with the anti-helmet rally taken out by lawyers in the city last month. You may read the LiveLaw story here.

With the two High Courts allowing the recording and the legislature mulling over the same, the idea of open justice propagated by the civil society and litigants, seems to be on its way to turn into a reality soon.