Introduced live transcripts of Supreme Court proceedings
Using artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced technology, the Supreme Court on Tuesday implemented the first live transcription of court proceedings in the country.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud declared that live transcription will begin on an experimental basis with the constitution bench hearing on the vertical split in Shiv Sena last year, which sparked a power struggle between Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde.
In addition to live-streaming, digitisation of court records, online RTI portal, digital courts desktop application, e-filing, and online appearance slip for lawyers, this initiative adds to a long list of technological reforms spearheaded by justice Chandrachud, who is also chairman of the e-Committee.
As soon as the constitution bench, chaired by the CJI, convened on Wednesday morning, Justice Chandrachud notified the attorneys that a screen displaying a live transcript of court events had been installed in courtroom 1, facing the attorneys.
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“The screen is visible there. We are attempting to experiment with live transcription of our proceedings and will do so in this case. If the experiment is successful, a permanent record of the debates will be created. This would benefit not only the lawyers, but also law school students, who will be able to see how these crucial issues were fought before the Supreme Court, he informed the lawyers in the courtroom.
The CJI stated emphatically that live-transcription will help build resources and be a “wonderful record” for the highest court.
Justice PS Narasimha concurred, stating, “Then, this court shall be a court of record.” Every statement and every debate will be recorded and preserved for eternity.”
While solicitor general Tushar Mehta and senior counsel Kapil Sibal hailed the introduction of live-transcription, justice MR Shah, another member of the five-judge panel, cautioned against its use. “Information is being shared so that attorneys do not interrupt one another during arguments. Without clarity, it will be difficult to record anything,” the court stated.
At this point, the CJI added: “If two or more voices are heard simultaneously, there will be considerable difficulty. We have professionals who will clarify the voices later. After the conclusion of the hearing, the attorneys will get copies of their arguments for review. We are beginning with such a mechanism and hope that it is successful.”
Justice Narasimha, for his part, instructed video-conferencing attorneys to raise their hands if they wish to speak and to refrain from interfering when another attorney is debating.
The Supreme Court of the United States provides audio and text transcripts of hearings. Numerous local courts in the United States also stenograph the majority of court hearings. A litigant in the United Kingdom may request a transcript of court proceedings for a fee if the hearing is recorded.
Early this month, senior counsel Indira Jaising urged the CJI to consider creating audio transcripts of the most significant court decisions. Jaising, who was one of the petitioners in the case that resulted in the 2018 Supreme Court decision declaring the live telecast of court proceedings to be a part of the right to access justice under Article 21 of the Constitution, was one of the petitioners in the case. The 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel, of which Justice Chandrachud was also a member and who wrote a separate ruling in favour of the petition, held that the judiciary must keep pace with technological advancements in order to increase public confidence in the judicial system.
Hence, the Supreme Court’s e-Committee, led by Justice Chandrachud, issued model guidelines to govern the live-streaming of court proceedings in India.
In the last week of August 2022, more than three years after a high court order recommended live-streaming its sessions, the Supreme Court live-streamed its inaugural proceedings. Nevertheless, the action was limited to the proceedings of a ceremonial bench that bid farewell to then-chief justice NV Ramana.
In September 2022, a full court consisting of all judges of the highest court resolved to regularly live-stream constitution bench proceedings, with the e-Committee spearheading the initiative. Presently, all hearings of the Constitution Bench are live-streamed.
With Justice Chandrachud at the helm, the e-Committee has taken a number of unique actions in response to the Supreme Court’s live-streaming push for public access and openness.
The CJI established the electronic Supreme Court Reports (e-SCR) project in January to give the digital version of the Supreme Court’s judgements as they are reported in the official law report – “Supreme Court Reports” (SCR). With more than 34,000 available judgements, the e-SCR provides free access to the official law reports of the Supreme Court’s reported Judgments to law students, lawyers, and other legal professionals, as well as the general public, with special tools for the accessibility of those with visual impairments. The action followed the digitization and scanning of SCRs from 1950 to 2017 and their preservation in digital soft copy in PDF format (Portable Document Format).
The CJI established a panel for the translation of top court rulings into regional languages last month, and 3,132 judgements have now been translated into Indian languages. The ‘AI assisted Legal Translation Advisory Committee’ has also been established to analyse and monitor the utilisation of Artificial Intelligence tools for translating judicial records into several vernacular languages in the apex court, as well as to suggest ways to further increase their use.
In an effort to eliminate paper from the court registry, Justice Chandrachud also developed an online site for attorneys to register their appearance in court proceedings. According to the court administration, around 1.5 million online appearance slips had been submitted as of February 15, and the same number, if not more, of paper sheets had been stored.
During this year, the CJI also implemented a new email policy for all Supreme Court internal communications, encouraging court personnel to reduce their paper use.
The CJI also opened an online Right To Information (RTI) portal in November 2022, providing access to information about the apex court as a public entity under the transparency law. During the September hearing of a PIL on this topic, the CJI announced that work was beginning on the internet portal and that it will be completed within two months. The administration reports that more than 450 applications have been submitted to the portal to date.
The CJI further asked the administration of the highest court to continue hearings in physical-hybrid mode while ensuring that the video-conferencing infrastructure and services remain operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From November 9, 2022 (when Justice Chandrachud became CJI) through February 15, 2023, the Supreme Court hosted 2.54 million virtual hearing attendees. Over the same time period, 43 constitution bench sessions were live-streamed via YouTube and NIC webcast services, according to the sources given above.
During a hearing on February 13, the CJI stated that technology as an enabler of open court philosophy and access to justice “is here to stay” and is not contingent on the approval of the chief justices of the highest courts. The judge, in response to a slew of petitions seeking access to justice through virtual courts as a fundamental right for litigants, emphasised that the infrastructure created with public funds for virtual proceedings cannot be allowed to go to waste, adding that he will soon issue an order on this matter.
Recently, the highest court held its first-ever hackathon to solicit innovative ideas for streamlining the filing and listing of cases in the highest court. Numerous individuals engaged in the brainstorming session to generate out-of-the-box concepts for the ecosystem’s enhancement.
The central government has recently allocated a budget of 7,000 crore for the third phase of the e-court project, based on a proposal by the e-Committee.
Last month, Union law minister Kiren Rijiju praised justice Chandrachud for his efforts as the chairperson of the e-Committee, revealing that he had encouraged the judge to continue leading the group after becoming the CJI, rather than appointing a replacement. The Honorable Chandrachud will retire on November 10, 2024.