Thursday, March 30, 2017

SC orders installation of CCTV cameras inside district courts

The Hindu: New Delhi: Thursday, March 30, 2017.
The Supreme Court has directed the installation of close circuit (CCTV) cameras inside lower courts in at least two districts in every State and Union Territory within the next three months.
Unlike Parliament and legislative bodies across the country, proceedings inside a court room have been a closely guarded affair with no access given to prying eyes. Court recordings are neither recorded via audio or video.
Judges in India have always defended their freedom to engage in their work away from the eyes of the camera unlike in some other countries and international courts.
In what may be perceived as a small step towards changing the status quo and re-igniting the debate on whether the public should be given access to judicial proceedings as a positive measure towards dispelling opacity, a Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit directed the 24 State High Courts across the country to give the thumbs up to install CCTV cameras without audio recording “inside the courts and important locations of the courts as may be considered appropriate.”
The Supreme Court gave the high courts carte blanche to decide the location of the district courts where the experiment should be held and any other issues concerning the subject.
It, however, exempted “small States/Union Territories” from this exercise, possibly considering the infrastructural handicap these States and UTs face, which would make it difficult for them to effectively implement the order.
However, the court did not clarify the term “small” in this case does it mean geographically small States such as Kerala or the States in the Northeast and union territories like Puducherry?
The Bench ordered that the monitor of these cameras would be located in the chambers of the District and Sessions Judge concerned.
The footage from these videos or feeds will not be open for public access under the Right to Information Act. “We make it clear that the footage of the CCTv cameras will not be available under the RTI and will not be supplied to anyone without the permission of the High Courts concerned,” it said.
The Supreme Court directed the Registrars General of the High Courts to send reports back on how the experiment has progressed to the secretary general of the Supreme Court within one month of the installation of cameras. The secretary General will, in turn, tabulate the reports from and place it for judicial consideration of the Bench on August 9, 2017.
The order came on a petition filed by Pradyuman Bisht for audio-video recording of trial court proceedings to ensure fair trial and transparency.
On February 2, 2017, the Bench asked Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh and senior advocate R. Venkataramani as amicus curiae to visit courts in Gurgaon and submit their notes. The order for the installation of CCTV cameras was given after the Bench perused their field reports.