Union Govt mulls legislative changes to introduce audio-video recording of court proceedings & disclosure of case statistics
The Union Government may consider legislative proposals to introduce audio-video recording of court proceedings, besides making it mandatory for high courts to disclose judicial statistics to bring in more transparency in the functioning of the judiciary.
The proposal to bring in relevant amendments in law was discussed at meeting of the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms which was chaired by Union Law minister Sadanada Gowda on July 15.
The meeting was attended by Chairman of the Law Commission, Justice A P Shah and the secretary general of the Supreme Court (SC) among others.
The suggestion of video recording was made by the Justice Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi high court, who 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.
After the July 15 meeting, the Law Ministry has again decided to write to the e-Committee of the Supreme Court "to explore whether video recording can be taken up on a pilot basis in some district courts" as suggested by the law commission chairman.
The government has also been facing difficulties in collection, maintenance and disclosure of judicial statistics. Statistics such as the number of adjournments granted by each judge and causes for delay in delivery of judgments are not shared by the judiciary.
The Government’s move to seek approval of the e-Committee of the apex court to permit audio-video recordings as part of Phase-II of the e-Courts project comes less than a year after a similar request was turned down by the panel.
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.
In the first phase, the government had computerized all the courts across the country, set up local area network and connected these courts with the national judicial data grid. As part of the national data grid, cause list, case analysis, type of cases, time taken for order, and all such information was to be made available for any court across the country.
The infrastructure for audio-video recordings was to be set up in the second phase of the government's e-court project.
However, the apex court's e-committee had rejected the proposal saying this was not acceptable at present.
Later, in a judgment rendered in January 2015 while dismissing a related petition, the Supreme Court had observed that there was no need for video recording of court proceedings. The CJI who headed the Bench 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.”
A lawyer, 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.”
Now, it is learnt that the Government is determined to push the proposal with greater vigour. The Union Government believes that proposed electronic recording of court proceedings would usher transparency as it would discourage witnesses from retracting their statements. Also, re-recording of witnesses statements often leads to unwarranted delay in trials and adds to the pendency of cases. Already, there are over 3.2 crore cases pending in various courts of which almost 2.8 crore cases are pending in subordinate courts alone.
Phase II of the e-Courts Project was approved by the Union Cabinet earlier this month.
Recently history of sorts was created when Justice Aniruddha Bose of the Calcutta High Court directed recording of court room proceedings in a particular case. Acting on an order passed by Justice Aniruddha Bose, the Registry of the Calcutta High Court had made all arrangements and installed a video camera and a microphone inside court hall number 24. The proceedings on July 15 were recorded for nearly 45 minutes.
Justice Bose passed the order directing recording of court proceedings after persistent pleas by advocate Deepak Khosla. He had been trying to convince the judge for long to order video recording so that there is incontrovertible evidence of conduct of the counsel on the other side.