The Supreme Court has ordered installation of CCTV cameras — without audio recording — at least in two districts in all states and union territories to record court proceedings.
In an unprecedented order by the apex judiciary, a bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and Uday U Lalit directed 24 high courts across the country to make sure district and sessions courts in a minimum of two districts in every state and union territories have CCTV cameras installed inside courtrooms and also in the court precincts within three months.
The order on the judicial side has come following several rounds of deliberations between the Central government and the top judiciary on the issue of audio-video recording of court proceedings. Since August 2013, Union Law Ministers have written to the then Chief Justices of India at least thrice to consider recording the court proceedings in the interest of transparency and better case management.
But the Supreme Court judges have demonstrated reluctance with the latest communication in August 2016 telling the government that the judges felt a “wider consultation” was necessary before a final decision. Not just this, many PILs demanding audio-video recording of proceedings had also been dismissed in the past even though Law Commissions have made recommendations favouring audio-video recording.
However, the two-judge bench decided to take the historic step Friday while observing that it would take the matter forward after examining the report on how the first step has worked itself out.
The bench entrusted the high court concerned with overseeing installation of cameras and their working while District and Sessions Judges, who is the administrative head of courts in a particular district, have been asked to monitor the courtroom proceedings in his or her chambers.
The bench added that only such small states and union territories where the high court felt that installation of CCTV cameras was not possible at the moment would be exempted from its order.
“We direct that at least in two districts in every state/union territory (with the exception of small states/union territories where it may be considered to be difficult to do so by the concerned high courts) CCTV cameras (without audio recording) may be installed inside the courts and at such important locations of the court complexes as may be considered appropriate,” directed the top court.
“Monitor thereof may be in the chamber of the concerned District and Session Judge,” said the bench, further clarifying that location of the district courts and any other issues concerning the subject may be decided by the respective high court.
The apex court also added necessary caveats in its order. “We make it clear that the footage of the CCTV camera will not be available under the RTI (Right To Information Act) and will not be supplied to anyone without permission of the concerned high court,” it maintained.
While the installation has to be completed within three months, the bench said that “the report of such experiment” will be submitted within one month of such installation by the Registrar Generals of the respective high courts to the Secretary General of the Supreme Court. The Secretary General has been further asked to collate and tabulate the information received from all high courts and placed it before the bench for a further consideration on August 9.
The order came on a petition moved by a man, who had sought audio-video recording of the trial proceedings of his matrimonial dispute to ensure a fair trial and that he was even willing to bear the expenses of installing such cameras.
Responding to the petition, the Department of Justice, in its affidavit told the bench that it has always advocated audio-video recording of the court proceedings since apart from ushering in more transparency and keeping tab on conduct of judicial officers, lawyers, victims, witnesses and police personnel, it would also help in having electronic records of cases.
The affidavit pointed out that while video-conferencing facility is used by some courts to connect with jailed inmates, proposals by the Law Ministers to the CJIs for introducing audio-video recording in subordinate courts to begin with have not cut much ice with the top judiciary.