SC moves closer to live-streaming of proceedings (Second Lead)

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New Delhi : Reserving its order on a batch of petitions for live-streaming of its proceedings, the Supreme Court on Friday said the proposal would help decongest the courtrooms without affecting the essential concept of open-court hearings.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A. M. Khanwilkar and Justice D. Y. Chandrachud made the remark while hearing a batch of petitions by senior counsel Indira Jaising and others.

"We are not ruling out anything. We will improve with time. Let us first start with (live-streaming). We are just on a pilot project," Justice Chandrachud said as lawyer Viraj Gupta expressed apprehension about its likely misuse.

Other lawyers, including Mumbai-based Mathews J. Nedumpara, wanted to further expand its scope by including transcription of the recorded proceedings.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal on Friday submitted 'Comprehensive Guidelines for Live- Streaming of Court Proceedings', which were marshalled after consultations and suggestions with parties seeking live-streaming of court proceedings.

"What is your problem? Why are you so conservative?" Chief Justice Misra asked as advocate Virag Gupta kept voicing his apprehensions over likely misuse of live streams and some part of footage being quoted out of context, a situation he said could neither be controlled nor stopped.

To buttress what the CJI said, Justice Chandrachud asked: "What is the big deal in live-streaming of court proceedings. We have open courtroom... anyone can come... (there are) many live tweets of the court proceedings and dozens of websites give judges' observations."

The comprehensive guidelines submitted for court consideration say that live- streaming of the top court's proceedings will begin as a pilot project in Court Number One presided over by the Chief Justice of India and will be confined to the proceedings of the matters dealt by the Constitution Bench.

The pilot project's success will lead to extension of live-streaming to other benches of the Supreme Court.

However, what may turn out to be controversial is a guideline that seeks to oust the media from the courtroom to decongest the courtrooms, designation of a "media room" within the court premises with "necessary infrastructural facilities" to ensure that all persons, including litigants, journalists, interns, visitors and lawyers are able to view the live-streaming.

The guidelines also suggest that the court lay down the criteria to determine which category of cases will come within the ambit of matters of constitutional and national importance requiring live-streaming.

The guidelines also suggested that the court "must have the power to limit, temporarily suspend or disallow filming or broadcasting, if in its opinion, such measures are likely to interfere with the rights of the parties to fair trial or otherwise interfere with the proper administration of justice."

The suggested guidelines have excluded from live-streaming eight categories of cases, including matrimonial matters, cases of sexual assault and rape, cases involving juveniles, and those requiring witness protection.

The guidelines say that apart from live-streaming of its proceedings, the court may in future also provide for transcribing facilities and archive audio-visual record of the proceedings to make the webcast accessible to the litigants and other interested people who are unable to witness the court proceedings for a variety of reasons.

Seeking that live stream footage should not be used for "commercial, promotional, light entertainment, satirical programmes or advertising", a guideline say that the "use of footage would be restricted for the purpose of news, current affairs, and the educational purposes."

The guidelines submitted by Attorney General Venugopal said that "live-streaming or webcast of the proceedings should not be reproduced, transmitted, uploaded, posted, modified, published or re-published to the public without prior written authorisation" of the top court.

Any unauthorised use of live-streaming or webcasts would be "punishable as an offence under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, the Information Technology Act, 2000, and any other provision of law in force."

It favoured application of contempt to such proceedings coupled with prohibitions, fines and penalties.

Suggesting the introduction of case management techniques to ensure that "matters are decided in a speedy manner and lawyers abide by the time-limits fixed prior to the hearing", the guidelines seek to replicate the practice followed in the Court of Appeal in England, by having only two camera angles, one facing the Judge and the other the lawyer.

The guidelines were prepared by Venugopal in pursuance to a plea of Jaising, who had moved the court to seek live-streaming and videotaping of court proceedings in cases of national importance with a bearing on a large section of people.

Jaising had based her PIL on the right to receive information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the principle of open courts and access to justice as protected under Article 21.