The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) has issued a statement demanding more transparency in judicial accountability and reforms. This statement was issued in light of the Supreme Court order in Pradyuman Bisht v Union of India, passed on Tuesday, directing the installation of CCTV cameras in trial courts on an experimental basis.
According to CJAR, though the order is about making the judiciary accountable, the following directives given in the order defeats its very purpose:
The CJAR said in the era of judicial activism when courts have started applying their judicial minds and hence have come to know about this enormous power they own, there should be transparency in order to keep them in check and bringing down the high levels of corruption in the court premises along with judicial accountability. Providing CCTV cameras footage with audio will help to curb the corruption present inside the courtroom and increasing the probability of a fair trial. Also everyone can have a check on the procedure adopted by the court and the arguments made by the lawyer and this, in turn, will increase the efficiency of the courts.
Moreover, the CJAR said CCTV recordings should come under RTI preview as it is easily accessible by general public as opposed to permission though high court, as that would result in unnecessary increase in work load of overburdened high court and will also lead to exhaustion of recourses.
Read full statement of CJAR here:
While we welcome the order of the Supreme Court of India in Pradyuman Bisht v Union of India, passed on 28.03.2017, directing the experimental use of CCTVs in trial courts in at least two districts of each large state, we are troubled by some of the accompanying directions which have the effect of defeating the purpose of this exercise and not being in the interests of ushering in greater transparency and accountability in the functioning of the judiciary.
We strongly disapprove of the court directing that the CCTV video coverage will be beyond the reach of the Right to Information Act. As a matter of principle, courts cannot and should not carve out such exceptions to an important transparency law without very strong and compelling reasons. In the present instance, as all court proceedings are necessarily open to the public, we do not see any reason whatsoever for the exclusion of the videos obtained from the CCTV cameras from the scope of the RTI Act. Once people are allowed to watch the proceedings, there is no reason whatsoever to deny those people a copy of the record of those proceedings. The denial of such record would continue to lead to disputes about what actually transpired in the court. There is no reason for such disputes to remain, when current technology allows a clear record of what transpired to be kept and made available. While the high court has been empowered to grant permission to anyone seeking the video recording, we do not think that this is an adequate or viable replacement to the mechanism of the RTI Act.
Further, by not providing for sound recording, the CCTV experiment as directed by the court is bound to fail. The goal of ensuring full transparency in the judicial process would be completely defeated if CCTV footage is not accompanied by audio recording of the proceedings. In the absence of knowledge of what was said and not said in court, the purpose of gathering CCTV footage becomes utterly futile.
This recent order is in keeping with the Supreme Court’s reluctance to allow audio-video (AV) recording of court proceedings in the past. In November 2014, the e-Committee of the Supreme Court rejected the Central Government’s proposal to introduce AV recording in subordinate courts as a part of the e-Courts project. Later in January 2015, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court dismissed a petition that proposed the installation of CCTV cameras in the court halls of the Supreme Court. Thereafter, in July 2015 as well, the E-Committee did not consider the Central Government’s proposal to install AV recording systems in subordinate courts on the ground that the courts system in India has not reached the level where recording of court proceedings can be permitted.
The interests of transparency in judicial proceedings will be rendered more meaningful if there is audio and video recording of court proceedings. We, therefore, urge the Supreme Court to modify its order so this much needed experiment is launched in a more sustainable manner, which can then be expanded to all levels of the judiciary.