‘Where there is no publicity, there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice.’
The above quote embodies the open justice rule which is essential for a fair trial and has been affirmed several rulings like Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, Kehar Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.) etc. In Mohd. Shahabuddin case, the Supreme Court talks about the advantages of having public access to trials such as fairness of trial, public access to accurate fact finding through improvement of witness testimony and educating the public. These trials serve a ‘sunshine’ function of maintaining trust in the judicial system.
Similarly, in the recent judgment of The Chief Election Commissioner of India v. M.R. Vijaybhaskar & Ors,the Supreme Court held that the scope of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution extends to reporting judicial proceedings by the media as well. Thus, it cannot be stopped from reporting oral remarks of the judges during the hearing of a case. Primarily concerned question was, what purpose does media serve in the courtroom?
The judgment entails the following imperative aspects –
- Virtual extension of the open court The development of media is not limited to news channels. The Court observed that in the new digital era, multiple social media forums like YouTube and Twitter are providing real-time updates to a much wider audience. This is the extension provided to the media. The courts must be open in the physical and metaphorical sense (except in-camera proceedings of child sexual abuse and matrimonial cases) and its access is essential to effectively guard valuable Constitutional freedoms i.e. right to freedom of speech and expression.
- Freedom of media extends to report judicial proceedings as well. Freedom of media was extended to report judicial proceedings on the grounds that citizens have the right to know what transpires in judicial proceedings. Public scrutiny is crucial to maintain transparency and accountability. Therefore, the information relating to court proceedings must be available in the public domain.
- Analysis of legal arguments It is essential for the media to report the proceedings as the oral arguments by the parties structure the base of the judicial proceedings. It is an exchange of open ideas through which the legal arguments are analysed and tested. This extension will further help the media to provide a colossal view of the judicial proceedings to the public. Court recognised that the large chunk of society is not personally involved in the judicial proceedings and depends on the electronic media for information. Thereby citing, Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India where the bench had stressed the importance of live streaming judicial proceedings. Recently, Draft Model Rules for Live-Streaming and Recording of Court Proceedings have also been released by the e-Committee of the Supreme Court.
- Indirect contribution of media to democracy Media enables transparency in the functioning of democratic institutions which is essential to generate public faith. In Mohd. Shahabuddin v. State of Bihar, it was noted;
“Even if the press is present, if individual members of the public are refused admission, the proceedings cannot be considered to go on in open court.”
The open court system educates the public on the reality of the legal system. To highlight this, the court quoted Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s sedition proceedings that widespread coverage of his trial was influential in highlighting inconsistency in procedural laws and rights denied to the undertrials. Hence, media reporting has functioned in parallel with a formalized court process for close to a century.
The media is now empowered officially to provide an authentic scenario of judicial proceedings to the citizens of the country. It will facilitate a robust check on the judicial behaviour of the parties involved. Oral arguments and remarks of the judges will not be restricted to the courtroom and would be accessible to the citizens. As a result, it will lead to public discussion, criticism and maintain the confidence of citizens. The justice process will be more transparent and help the layperson to know the practical application of the law and its impact on their rights. The enhancement in the open court system will contribute to the functioning of the democracy by making the concerned authorities i.e. judges, lawyers and witnesses to act more cautiously.