Violation of concept of open court in Kerala

Photo by Carptrash at the English language Wikipedia The continuing restrictions on the media from entering court premises in Kollam, Kochi and elsewhere in Kerala are in violation of Constitutional principles, common law and freedom of the press.

It undermines the concept of open justice which is one of the fundamental tenets of fair trial in common law. It is a venerated concept which is considered indispensable for fair trial. If some advocates and judges think that they can work the system without media, they are treading a dangerous path. Soon, the legitimacy of administration of justice itself will be in question.

The concept of open court, one should note, is just not of media access. It encompasses the right of public including lawyers not involved in the proceedings to be present in court. The media act as the eyes and ears of the public. Many courts across the democratic world are extending these rights by allowing copying of exhibits and even televising of proceedings.

It is surprising that some lawyers and judges are thinking in the opposite direction now. It is possibly an indicator of rot in the system. Many unhealthy trends are creeping into the administration of justice and presence of media is a hindrance to that. (This is not to say that unhealthy trends are absent in media.)

Many government pleaders these days are not always acting in the best interests of the government. Years ago, many people got favourable verdicts in forest cases since the government pleaders did not question fake documents and arguments presented by the plaintiffs. This forced the government to come up with a law for takeover of ecologically fragile lands. This led to another set of litigations which are yet to end. Besides, some innocents were harmed by forest officials in the process.

It was the environmental organisations and media, not necessarily those reporting from courts, which brought out developments like this. In the absence of media access to court proceedings, instances of liaison between lawyers appearing for government and plaintiffs in civil cases and accused in criminal cases are likely to grow.

Open justice is key to rule of law in democracies and any departure from that should be explained. However, some judicial officers have sought to limit media access to courts without proper explanations. The principle of open court ought to be upheld over concerns of friction or conflict. Lack of openness in court proceedings undermine rule of law. As philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham had pointed out open justice is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity.

One thought on “Violation of concept of open court in Kerala

  1. Well said, Roy. The concluding sentence — a quote from Jeremy Bentham — nails it. “.. the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity.” Best, kg

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