The bench comprising of Chief Justice VikramNath and Justice JB Pardiwala while disposing a PIL on public access to virtual court hearings remarked-
“To observe the requirement of an open Court proceedings, the members of the public should be allowed to view the Court hearings conducted through the video conferencing, except the proceedings ordered for the reasons recorded in writing to be conducted in-camera.”
In the petition filed by Pruthvi raj sinh Zala, a third year law student at Nirma University, stated that the present system of virtual hearings, whereby the video link to proceedings is “inaccessible” to public at large including litigants, media personnel and law students etc and only concerns with the Advocates.
The bench informed the Petitioner that a Committee of Judges had already been constituted to take up the issue of virtual courts on administrative side and that they appreciate the Petitioner’s efforts to raise an important issue of larger public interest.
“For the purpose of working out the modalities to facilitate the people at large including the media to watch the virtual hearing, a Committee of two Honourable Judges of this High Court has been constituted pursuant to the decision taken by the Standing Committee in its meeting held on 25th June 2020.
Once the report is received, the further action to allow access to the public at large including the media persons of print digital and electronic media shall be finalized.”
The plea in case of virtual court was disposed of with the following remarks in the background,
“The right to know and receive information is one of the facets of Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution and for which reason; the public is entitled to witness the Court proceedings involving the issue having an impact on the public at large or a section of the public, as the case may be.”
Before the Court,the Petitioner had raised the arguments that even in normal parlance, physical hearings ought to be made more accessible by setting up live-streaming mechanism of virtual courts, in terms of Section 327 of CrPC and Section 153-B of CPC, that relate to open trials and access to the public during hearing of cases before the Court.
The Supreme Court gave the verdictin NareshShridharMirajkar&Ors. v.State of Maharashtra &Anr AIR 1967 SC 1 and the same was relied on by the Petitioner,
“Public confidence in the administration of justice is of such great significance that there can be no two opinions on the broad proposition that in discharging their functions as judicial tribunals, courts must generally hear causes in open and must permit the public admission to the court room.”
Notably, the Kerala High Courtis the only court which has successfully started live-streaming of virtual court hearings through the Zoom App in India.
On 9th April 2020, a single Bench inHigh Court of the Bombay had also held open for-public video-conferencing of virtual court hearing.
The Calcutta High Court has also agreed to live stream the proceedings of a case where entry of children born to Parsi women and non-Parsi men into a fire temple, a Zoroastrian place of worship, in the city. The date for the final hearing has not yet been fixed, though.
Case Title: PruthvirajsinhZala v. High Court of Gujarat
Case No.: WP PIL No. 99/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice VikramNath and Justice JB Pardiwala
Read the Order: