ISLAMABAD: Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on Monday suggested to the Supreme Court to live stream its proceedings to full public view when no secrets were involved and let common people from across the country have easy access to justice.

“Instead of being an ostrich which buries its head in sand, let us regulate ourselves in full view of the people, especially when we do not have any secrets,” observed Justice Shah, a member of the 10-judge SC bench which took up a set of review petitions in Justice Qazi Faez Isa case.

“The judiciary should open up for the world and let the people decide how we run our institutions as the judiciary is a public institution and we judges are the trustee of the people doing adjudication on disputes. This is something futuristic, but we are not isolated rather living in a global village,” Justice Shah observed, asking why should “we deprive an individual who is interested in hearing some particular case, but cannot afford to come from Gwadar or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of financial constraint”.

Justice Shah also cited one of his visits to the Brazilian Supreme Court where judges told him that they also ran a small television station as well as a radio station as they believed that the people of Brazil needed to know what actually was happening in courts.

Justice Shah wondered how the federal government could have a say in regulating the affairs of how the Supreme Court should live stream when it said it purely was an administrative policy decision on the part of the court.

The observation came in response to Additional Attorney General (AG) Chaudhry Aamir Rehman’s statement that it was for the Supreme Court to decide whether to allow live streaming or live telecast of the present case after weighing all options, but such a decision should only be in an administrative policy matter rather than judicial.

Justice Muneeb Akhtar, another member of the bench, observed that if “we allow live streaming then anyone, even a litigant, will have the same right for live broadcast of the court proceedings”.

At the fag end of the proceedings, Justice Faez Isa dubbed the entire arguments of the federal government generic, but what he was propagating specific. “My entire life for the last two years was under the microscope, yet the propagandists and trumpeters of the government were afraid of my side of the version coming out to the public when they are issuing their side of the version through their controlled media,” he said.

Justice Isa said Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar Mirza could hold a press conference on May 29, 2019 about the filing of a presidential reference against him but had no guts to come to the court to listen to the proceedings. They have destroyed everything by controlling the media that’s why people are turning towards YouTube, he added. “They are so scared and terrified of the truth”.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who was heading the bench, observed that he could not privately communicate with him being on this side of the bench, but he knew how many were on his side.

The AAG argued that the apex court should reject the application of Justice Isa about live streaming and ask the petitioner judge to commence hearing on his review petitions. Citing a number of statutory provisions about open court hearing, he contended that nowhere it had been explained that the open hearing also meant live streaming.

The AAG emphasised that it was a policy decision on the part of the court whether or not it should allow live streaming. “Of course, right to fair trial, due process and citizen’s right to have access to justice are cherished goals but these have already been discussed in the 2012 Watan Party case and the 2016 Supreme Court employees case,” he argued, adding that these judgements had never discussed that live streaming was one of the most important ingredients for fair trial.

Referring to a South African case titled Henri Christo Von Bred versus Media 24 Limited, a judgement which was provided by Justice Isa in his favour, the AAG argued that this case was initiated on an application of the media outlet, but none of the media houses in the present case had approached the apex court in this regard, adding that a free press was the eyes and ears of citizens.

Moreover, he added, in that judgement it was held that everybody, even the prosecutor, was the stakeholders, but in the present case the Supreme Judicial Council, which had been made one of the respondents by Justice Isa, should also be heard before reaching any conclusion.

The AAG highlighted that Article 19 A of the Constitution ensured the right to information and freedom of the press but with certain reasonable restrictions, emphasising that it was the self-restriction on the part of the judiciary which ensured misuse of rights.

Justice Muneeb Akhtar wondered what kind of proceedings made up for the open court hearing, asking whether the public due to space constraints, it allowed to sit in the adjoining room of the court and linked up with video, could be called open court.

The AAG replied in the affirmative, saying the concept of open court stood fulfilled if the press conveyed what actually transpired in the courtroom.

Referring to the live streaming of parliament’s proceedings, he explained that whatever discussed in parliament was of general nature, but the court proceedings were very technical and an ordinary citizen could not fully grasp the same. Besides, he added, judges decided cases after consulting themselves and going through voluminous records for which oral arguments forwarded in the courtroom were not enough.

“If the open court proceedings mean live streaming then what about the Brazilian maxim that says that justice should be served on the doorstep? Does it mean that the court should go house to house to deliver judgements?” the AAG asked.

The court postponed the hearing till March 17.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2021

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