Advocating for better accessibility to Indian courts for the citizens, Gautam Khaitan talks about the changes in the post-COVID world and the way ahead. He has served as an officer of the law for 29 years and carved out a niche for his father’s law firm OP Khaitan & Co in very short time.
In today’s world of the pandemic and the subsequent digitalization of everyday life, the idea of making certain changes permanent has been gaining traction. When the lockdown put a freeze on physical movements and affected the functioning of every office, our courts were not left untouched. Hearings were postponed, cases began pushed back, the livelihood of millions of people involved in the legal circuit came to a standstill.
However, in no time, the courts shifted to virtual proceedings and upheld their duty of ensuring justice to the citizens of the nation. This commitment to law and order by the government and the judiciary has safeguarded people’s faith in the constitutional order operating smoothly even in the crisis. On the adoption of the technology to get the courts functional despite the restrictions necessitated by the lockdown and the pandemic, Gautam Khaitan, who is Managing Partner of OP Khaitan & Co, applauded the judiciary and its officials for the healthy continuation of proceedings.
He foregrounds the issue of safety as well as greater accessibility for all the people involved in the judicial machinery: “In addition to judges and lawyers, the non-legal arm of the ecosystem, which is the media and journalism, is as important and they must have greater access to our system”.
The digitalization of operations has made it feasible for people to access the doors of courts without putting anyone in danger or risk related to health. For this purpose, Gautam Khaitan suggests looking into the possibility of making this alternate form of judicial proceedings into a permanent feature of Indian courts and incorporating live streaming of court proceedings to make it accessible to the public.
Gautam Khaitan also emphasizes the crucial role journalism plays in not only disseminating the impact of judicial process to the common public but also ensuring accountability of the officers of law. He echoes the spirit of “justice must be seen to be done”.
The trust of the people in India’s democracy does not come only from elections, rather the functioning of its institutions paves the way for that trust. This sentiment gains deeper value when it comes to matters of national interests and security, adds Gautam Khaitan.
Among the apprehensions with live streaming, he notes the challenge of preventing media trials from taking place, as a court case takes place over multiple hearings. Moreover, it is an important duty of the journalistic fraternity to be responsible in handling the breakdown of cases so that people have ready access to factual and vetted analyses.
In Gautam Khaitan’s view, this will increase awareness and education of the people about our judicial process and institutions. He cites the case of top-tier courts in Canada and Australia which already live-stream their proceedings. Even in our nation, the legislature arm of the State partakes in this practice through the live airing of Parliament Sessions in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Chief Justice NV Ramana resonated this aspiration recently, where he made the remark “This will serve as a useful resource for media persons and the general public who wish to be better informed about the rulings of the court”.
The time has come to move in the direction of embracing the technology and utilizing it to better enforce the spirit of constitutional rights and values.
However, the proposed mechanism is not without concerns. Critics have pointed towards the dangerous possibility of sensitive information being accessed by the enemies of the Indian state. Moreover, intimate information of individuals involved in the cases of personal disputes and matters might be made public, leading to their violation of privacy and harassment.
On the reservations regarding live streaming of court proceedings, Gautam Khaitan calls them valid but believes that they can be resolved with creative ideas, stating “cases which deal with issues of national importance can be broadcasted while those involving personal affairs like family conflicts or individual disputes can be kept outside the ambit of this.”
For a proper enactment of such a model, he asserts that establishing a highspeed network and technological infrastructure has to be made first priority, especially in rural areas.
“COVID19 has made us realize that facilities like internet and smartphones can no longer remain a luxury meant for the privileged few. They are a necessity in this new digital world and every citizen must be connected with them at the basic level.”