ISLAMABAD - A petition on Saturday filed in Supreme Court requesting it to issue directions for live streaming of the proceedings from the courtroom in all matters of public importance and particularly the proceedings under Article 184 of the Constitution.

The petitioner also requested the top court to declare that any blanket ban on the live-streaming of proceedings is arbitrary and discriminatory besides being violative of the fundamental rights including the right of access to justice, the right to information and the right to fair trial and due process.

Senior Advocate and Member of Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Advocate Raheel Kamran Sheikh, who also served as Chairman of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee for the Judicial and Electoral Reforms, moved the petition under Article 184 (3).

Petitioner says it will effectuate the public’s right to know

The petition made Secretary Law and Justice, Ministry of Information and Technology, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), and Registrar of Supreme Court as respondents.

“Besides enforcement of the fundamental rights, live streaming shall reinforce the rule of law, ensure upholding of the principle of open, transparent and accessible justice, and effectiveness of the Court, and enhance public confidence in the institution of the judiciary,” it added.

The petition stated that under Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1925, recording of court proceedings used to be a crime in England and also amounted to the contempt of court, but this position has changed with the implementation of the Constitutional Reforms Act, 2005.

“As of now, the media is permitted to broadcast court proceedings and hearings are live streamed and recorded. England is not the only country to have allowed live streaming, broadcasting and recording of the court proceedings. Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Northern Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Scotland and South Africa have also granted such permissions. However, this is not the case in Pakistan,” the petition stated. 

The petitioner contended that live streaming of the proceedings, at least in cases involving public importance, is a necessary extension of the requirement of law guaranteed by the fundamental right to information embodied in Article 19A of the Constitution.

“Indubitably, live streaming of Court proceedings has the potential of throwing up an option to the public to witness live court proceedings which they otherwise could not have due to logistical issues and infrastructural restrictions of Courts; and would also provide them with a more direct sense of what has transpired.”

“In the process, a large segment of society, be it entrants in the legal profession, journalists, civil society activists, academicians or students of law, will be able to view live proceedings in propria persona on real time basis.”

The petitioner argued that in various matters involving suo moto notices, respondents have voiced their concerns and apprehensions regarding deprivation of their fundamental right.

“While such criticism may not be justified in many cases, there remains a legitimate concern and the scope for regulating the conduct of proceedings to ensure that fairness is maintained all along in every case,” the petition stated adding that the live streaming shall assist the counsels as well as the judges to discharge such a burden with utmost grace and responsibility.

Live streaming will effectuate the public’s right to know, and that too with radical immediacy while reducing the public’s reliance on second-hand narratives.

It further added that the step will help reduce misinformation and misunderstanding about the judicial process. “Viewing Court proceedings will also serve an educational purpose. Law students will be able to observe and learn from the interactions between the Bar and the Bench,” it added.

It said: “Neither any restriction has been imposed by law while prohibiting live streaming of the Supreme Court proceedings nor any such law imposing blanket prohibition can withstand the test of constitutional validity after enactment of Article 19A of the Constitution particularly in matters involving public importance, such as those brought before the Court under Article 184 of the Constitution.” 

“In accordance with Article 19A, live broadcasting of the Court’s proceedings can be made subject to a regulatory framework adopted in the Supreme Court Rules or through law enacted in this behalf,” it maintained.

It added: “While restrictions may be imposed by law on the aforementioned live streaming/broadcasting the determination of exceptional cases wherein restriction on live streaming may appropriately be placed in the public interest, the same must be reasonable, necessary and proportionate so as to not extinguish the constitutionally endowed right.”

Live streaming will enhance the rule of law and promote better understanding of legal governance as part of the functioning of democracy, the petition read.