Apex court urged to broadcast hearings of public importancePakistan
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has come across a one-of-a-kind request to live-stream or broadcast the hearing of cases of public importance, particularly proceedings under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
The request has been made through a petition instituted by a member of the Pakistan Bar Council, Raheel Kamran Sheikh, who has also sought a declaration from the apex court that any blanket ban or prohibition on the live-streaming of proceedings in the Supreme Court as arbitrary and discriminatory besides being violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens including the right of access to justice, the right to information and the right to fair trial and due process.
The petition has asked for directives by the court to extend full cooperation regarding infrastructural and other facilities for ensuring live streaming / broadcasting and framing guidelines for the exercise of these rights.
The respondents in the petition are the federal government through law and information secretaries, the Pakistan Electronic Medial Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Registrar of the Supreme Court.
Ban on carrying phones and cameras in courtrooms called arbitrary
The petition emphasised that live-streaming would enhance the rule of law and promote better understanding of legal governance as part of the functioning of democracy.
Moreover this will also reinforce the rule of law, ensure the upholding of the principle of open, transparent and accessible justice, uphold the legitimacy and effectiveness of the court and enhance public confidence in the institution of the judiciary, the petition said.
It also raised a plea that the SC registrar should place guidelines, to be laid by the court by amending the Supreme Court Rules, before the full court meeting of all the judges.
The petition pleaded that Article 19A of the Constitution guaranteed the right to information in all matters of public importance and such a fundamental right was only subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law.
Neither any restriction has been imposed by law while prohibiting live-streaming of the Supreme Court proceedings nor can any law imposing blanket prohibition withstand the test of constitutional validity after enactment of Article 19A particularly in matters involving public importance, such as those brought before the court under Article 184.
The right to information under Article 19A cannot be realised to the extent of judicial proceedings in the most interactive and educationally wholesome manner until and unless proceedings of this court are made available beyond the physical confines of the courtroom, the petition highlighted.
The petition recalled that the apex court in the 2012 Watan Party case had held that access to information was a justifiable right of the people, rather than being largesse bestowed by the State at its whim.
Since no person could be heard to plead ignorance of law, there was corresponding obligation on the State to spread awareness about the law and the developments, including the evolution of the law, which might happen in the process of adjudication of cases before this court, the petition argued. Thus the provision of information in matters of public importance becomes a duty – the discharge of which must be ensured by the apex court in its role as the guardian of the rights of the people of Pakistan.
Under Article 19A, a live broadcast of the court’s proceedings could be made subject to a regulatory framework adopted in the Supreme Court Rules or through law enacted, the petition suggested.
Any blanket ban or prohibition on the live streaming of the proceedings in the Supreme Court 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.
Thus the absolute prohibition imposed by the SC registrar to carry mobile phones, pagers and cameras etc in the courtrooms was also manifestly arbitrary and discriminatory, and therefore violative of Articles 4 and 25 of the Constitution, the petition emphasised.
Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2019