The start of live-streaming of proceedings of the Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court of India is welcome as it allows the people to get an idea of how the court functions but it is for time to decide how substantial the benefit accrued is beyond offering a spectacle.
Announcing the decision to open up the court proceedings for the public, the then Chief Justice had remarked that sunlight is the best disinfectant. He was suggesting that the opaque nature of the functioning of the court had resulted in undesirable consequences, and that they need to be corrected, and transparency can do the job.
All tools of a democratic state should be transparent. However, it must also be said that while transparency is a necessary condition, it is not the sufficient one. Parliamentary proceedings are broadcast now, with people getting to know how their representatives run the show but we are unsure how helpful it has been in making the functioning of the temple of democracy more democratic. Sessions continue to be washed out and bills that would impact the lives of millions of people are still passed in a huff.
The Right to Information Act, 2005, substantially helped remove the veil of secrecy in the government’s functioning and altered public access to the process of decision making. There have been attempts to dilute the law by various means, including denial of information and refusal to fill up posts of information commissioners. Still, the law has decluttered the bureaucracy for the general public to a great extent.
It’s now the turn of the judiciary to invite people to watch how it goes about delivering justice to the people whom they serve. Courts are custodians of constitutional freedoms and are expected to come to the aid of the people whenever the State infringes or attempts to infringe on them. There are occasions when the judiciary rose to the occasion; there are also occasions when it miserably failed to do so.
Independence and fairness are the key words that help the judiciary win its case before the people who are the ultimate source of power. If the public can see those virtues in action, it will further help consolidate the moral power of the judiciary in delivering justice.
Now, the flipside. Law is considered a nuanced subject which manifests itself in layers; it often refuses to allow itself to be revealed to the untrained eye and could prejudice the minds of people about judicial decisions. If that happens, then it would undo all the benefits that transparency has. Better legal literacy can help avert this. And all this will work only when the judges are able to resist the temptation to play to the gallery.
There is the danger of bits and pieces of the court proceedings being made material for “WhatsApp universities”. A reference by a judge or a question by another could be taken out of the context and presented in a partisan manner. There should be safeguards against such vulnerabilities.
Whether it is the Constitution or the Constitution Bench, it will ultimately depend on the people who run it to decide its usefulness. Now, over to their lordships....