A dispute between two factions of a political party that may shape anti-defection laws and lay down the rule for political desertions. A challenge to the government’s move to grant economic reservations with the potential to redefine the affirmative action regime. A question on the powers of a statutory body to conduct the qualifying exam for lawyers, with ramifications for tens of thousands of students and professionals. These three cases marked a landmark moment in the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday when the apex court began live-streaming the proceedings of select Constitution Bench cases. The ground for this move had been laid in 2018 when the court first agreed to introduce live-streaming in phases, but it took four years, and a pandemic, for the courts and the legal community to become more comfortable with tech platforms and to fine-tune the process of live webcasting.
This is a welcome step that brings the SC on par with leading constitutional courts across the world. It ensures transparency and makes the citizenry more connected to cases of national importance — after all, as the petitioners in 2018 argued, all citizens are de-facto stakeholders in cases that have constitutional ramifications. It is, therefore, important that people have the opportunity to observe, understand and appreciate the legal process on matters that affect their personhood, society and country. Across three courts, the livestream garnered around 732,000 views with an average viewing duration of two to six minutes on Tuesday.
The top court has indicated that it may take a call on expanding the livestream to beyond key Constitution Bench cases. If this happens, the court will have to take a call on questions of privacy and secrecy that will inevitably arise when cases involve individuals and details of their personal lives. The court has opted for its own webcasting platform but authorities will also have to keep an eye out for morphed or edited clips, or videos of the livestream that may take an advocate’s argument, or a judge’s observations, out of context (This is why the United States SC puts out only audio recordings). Some of this is inevitable and difficult to control but the court will have to draw up clear guidelines and build safeguards as livestreaming of its proceedings expands and evolves.
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