An independent, objective and unbiased judiciary is one of the most important pillars of democracy. The journey of the judiciary towards transparency can be traced over the past seven years. The following are three instances that exemplify its move towards transparency.
- Inviting Public Opinion: After striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act in 2015, the apex court invited public opinion on ways to improve the opaque Collegium system of judicial appointments.
- Case Allotment: In the year 2018, SC started with the publication of the first-ever “subject-wise roster” for the allocation of cases a month later.
- Live-stream of proceedings: Later in the same year, the Supreme Court in Swapnil Tripathi vs the Supreme Court of India (2018) had ruled in favour of opening live streaming.
Importance of Transparency:
- Transparency is fundamental and one of the most important characteristics of a democracy.
- It assists citizens in exercising control over and involvement in public affairs.
- Transparency should involve citizens’ ability to request access to public information, as well as the state’s responsibility to generate data and make it widely available to residents.
Importance of Judicial Transparency:
- Judicial transparency is particularly important in judicial institutions because it fosters accountability, combats corruption, and aids in eliminating arbitrariness.
- This approach promotes greater judicial independence and boosts public confidence.
- A policy of transparency and access to public information can improve the level of trust and legitimacy of judges and others working in the justice system, allowing society to better understand its operation, challenges, and limitations.
- Thus, it can also be said that judicial transparency reassures justice.
Right to Information (RTI) portal: As of now the RTI pleas are e-mailed to the court, but soon this is going to change. Efforts are in full swing to establish an RTI portal for the submission of petitions online.
Live streaming in High Courts:
- Presently, the Gujrat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Patna High Courts live to stream their proceedings.
Global examples of live streaming
- United Kingdom: In 2005, the law was amended to remove contempt of court charges for recording proceedings of the Supreme Court.
- United States of America: While the US Supreme Court has rejected pleas for the broadcast of its proceedings, it has since 1955 allowed audio recording and transcripts of oral arguments.
- Brazil: The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil live streams hearings of all cases in video format on television.
- Canada: The Canadian Supreme Court also live streams hearings of all its cases in video format on its website.
- Australia: The Australian Supreme Court streams hearings of its full-court cases on its website with a delay of about a day.
- De-congestion of courts
- Improving physical access to courts for litigants
- Improved accountability
- Academic help
Concerns around live streaming:
- Irresponsible or motivated use of content.
- Judges act to maximize their individual exposure.
- Judges may not ask questions or make comments that could be perceived as unpopular.
Imperfections in the Judiciary:
- Nepotism: The “Uncle Judges Syndrome” has been highlighted by the Law Commission of India in their 230th Relations precede talent in the appointment of judges – a system that needs overhauling.
- Post-retirement appointments: The temptation of post-retirement appointments influences pre-retirement judgments. This is a serious threat to the independence of the judiciary, which is the foremost requirement for its effectiveness.
- Undefined roles and responsibilities of a Judge: There are many instances of judges exceeding the judicial brief. It is therefore very important that the roles and responsibilities of a judge are well-defined, as also the boundaries within which a judge must operate.
- Transfer of Judges: The policy of transfer is also criticized because many transfers of judges of different High Courts have been made on extraneous motives.
- The practice of Sealed Envelope: In the case of sealed cover submission, the information is accessible only to the court and only to the party who has submitted it.
- There are so many cases where the Court had sought a detailed report in a sealed cover envelope such as in the case of former Chief of CBI Alok Verma, 2G Spectrums, and Board for Control of Cricket in India, etc.
- RTI Act: The Supreme Court, in a recent decision in the Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat (2020), barred citizens from obtaining access to court records under the RTI Act.
- Who will judge the judges: While judges are required to depend solely on evidence to deliver verdicts, it is important to make them accountable for their decisions.
Steps to increase judicial transparency
- Transparent and open processes in the appointment of judges
- Provision for collection, analysis, and sharing of statistical data
- Access to information and decisions
- India’s judiciary is the guardian of its Constitution. When all other government machinery fails to do its duty, the judiciary is held accountable. The Indian people’s confidence and faith are a precondition for the judiciary to function effectively. Transparency and accountability in the judiciary are important to make sure that the people’s right to receive information which is implicit under Article 19(1)(a) doesn’t get compromised.