The Gujarat High Court has made significant remarks with respect to open-public access to courts hearings conducted via video conferencing.
While disposing of a PIL seeking live streaming of virtual court hearings, the bench comprised of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala said,
"To observe the requirement of an open Court proceedings, the members of the public should be allowed to view the Court hearings conducted through the video conferencing, except the proceedings ordered for the reasons recorded in writing to be conducted in-camera."
The remarks were made in the petition filed by a third year law student at Nirma University, Pruthvirajsinh Zala, stating that the present system of virtual hearings, whereby the video link to proceedings is shared only with the Advocates concerned, is "inaccessible" to public at large including litigants, media personnel and law students etc.
While appreciating the Petitioner's efforts to raise an important issue of larger public interest, the bench informed him that a Committee of Judges had already been constituted to take up the issue on administrative side.
"For the purpose of working out the modalities to facilitate the people at large including the media to watch the virtual hearing, a Committee of two Honourable Judges of this High Court has been constituted pursuant to the decision taken by the Standing Committee in its meeting held on 25th June 2020.
…Once the report is received, the further action to allow access to the public at large including the media persons of print digital and electronic media shall be finalized," the bench said.
In this backdrop, the plea was disposed of with the following remarks,
"The right to know and receive information is one of the facets of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and for which reason, the public is entitled to witness the Court proceedings involving the issue having an impact on the public at large or a section of the public, as the case may be."
The Petitioner had argued before the Court that even in normal parlance, physical hearings ought to be made more accessible by setting up live-streaming mechanism, in terms of Section 327 of CrPC and Section 153-B of CPC, that relate to open trials and access to the public during hearing of cases before the Court.
He had relied on the Supreme Court's verdict in Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra & Anr., AIR 1967 SC 1, as per which
"Public confidence in the administration of justice is of such great significance that there can be no two opinions on the broad proposition that in discharging their functions as judicial tribunals, courts must generally hear causes in open and must permit the public admission to the court room."
Significantly, the High Court of Kerala is the only court in India which has successfully started live-streaming of court hearings through the Zoom App.
Following the lead, a single Bench of the Bombay High Court had also held open for-public video-conferencing hearing on 9th April 2020.
The Calcutta High Court has also agreed to live stream the proceedings of a case seeking entry of children born to Parsi women and non-Parsi men into a fire temple, a Zoroastrian place of worship, in the city. However, the date for the final hearing has not yet been fixed.
Case Title: Pruthvirajsinh Zala v. High Court of Gujarat
Case No.: WP PIL No. 99/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala
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