Court Goes Viral
At least two hundred thousand citizens have been tuning in daily to the Karnataka High Court’s live stream of the Hijab Ban hearings.
We court reporters spend much of our day thinking of ways to hold our reader’s attention. The daily ins and outs of court proceedings are seldom of interest to the public. The Hijab Ban hearings at the Karnataka High Court (HC) are an outlier. Every day this week, at least two hundred thousand citizens tuned in to the Court’s live stream, listening to every word with bated breath.
The Karnataka HC is among the first few Indian Courts to begin live streaming its proceedings. Live streaming has offered the chance for citizens to directly engage with the Courts. The frenetic interest in the Hijab Ban proceedings, owing largely to the subject of the case, is palpable. In the brief moments before the HC disabled the option to chat on Tuesday, viewers flooded the YouTube live stream with comments about religion, personal autonomy and the right to education.
The journey towards live streaming of court proceedings began in 2018, when the Supreme Court (SC) held that cases of constitutional and national importance should be broadcast to the public. Two years later, amidst the COVID induced migration to online workplaces, the Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Patna HCs began live streaming. The SC itself is yet to implement the 2018 Judgment and begin live streaming.
Some concerns about live streaming continue to linger amidst the general excitement. A barrage of interventions and lawyers jostling for the Court’s time are not rare in a case this crucial. Critics, however, worry that the awareness of more eyes on the Court will affect how its participants act. In 2021, CJI N.V. Ramana commented that public access might be a ‘double-edged sword’. He cautioned Judges against being swayed by the public opinions and advised lawyers to prioritise their clients’ interests instead of vying for public attention. There has also been concern about how the public will engage with unfiltered access to court proceedings.
Students remain parked outside their schools awaiting answers but the Hijab Ban issue is far from reaching finality. The Karnataka government has just started presenting its arguments. No matter which way the HC Judgment goes, an appeal to the Supreme Court is imminent. Will direct access to the HC proceedings have an impact on the public discourse about the case? Will the success of the Karnataka HC live stream inspire the SC to begin live streaming as well?
Read more about how the live streaming protocol at Indian courts compares to other countries here.