JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY IN TIMES OF COVID-19
Independence of the judiciary is one of the essential traits of a democratic government. However, this does not mean that the judiciary, i.e. the judges or court officials should have unfettered power. Judges too must uphold the highest standards of integrity and be held accountable to the public. Where judges or court personnel are suspected of breaching the public’s trust; fair measures must be in place to detect, investigate and sanction corrupt practices. Formerly, several attempts have been made in the form of the Judicial Accountability Bills of 2006 and 2010 but these bills never saw the light.
In the past, several allegations have been made against judges for misconduct. In lines of the pandemic too, several questions were raised against the judiciary for hearing certain cases at great urgency, while keeping other similar matters pending without any hearing. Such practices make the public lose their faith in the justice delivery system.
Through the 2018 verdict of Swapnil Tripathi v Supreme Court of India, the Court laid down elaborate guidelines and modalities for live-streaming court proceedings. The Court held that the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 will have to be suitably amended to provide for the regulatory framework for holistic live-streaming as an extension of the principle of open courts and for dissemination of information in the widest possible sense, thereby imparting transparency and accountability to the judicial process.
This declaration made by the Supreme Court two years ago has now come to light. Several High courts like Madras and Gujarat have already started live-streaming certain matters. The SC accordingly, on 4th November, set up a panel to formulate rules for regulating the live streaming. However, several judges including CJI Bobde have claimed the process is susceptible to abuses and the Court until now had been reluctant in allowing the same.