Rudespotted: Vakasha Sachdev

Vakasha Sachdev (@VakashaS) recently commented on ‘Live Tweeting Court Proceedings’:

“A stream of live tweets, posted over the course of six days, recently went viral in the Indian Twitterverse. Surprisingly, these tweets had nothing to do with Shah Rukh Khan or Baahubali or the IPL or some ridiculous reality TV star or farragoes or any of the other ludicrous things that the internet in its wisdom decides to make viral.

What they related to was far more unexpected – the constitutionality of a tax law amendment. More specifically, the recent case before the Supreme Court challenging the amendment to the Income Tax Act which effectively requires you to have an Aadhaar card to file your tax returns.

Basically, Supreme Court lawyers Gautam Bhatia and Prasanna S took six days of complex arguments on constitutional and taxation law, argued by some of India’s most eminent lawyers, and tweeted concise, understandable summaries of these in real time.

Indeed those 6 days, saw the monstrously talented, Former Rhodes Scholar, Gautam Bhatia (@gautambhatia88) manically tweeting. A staggering number of people were cued in. One would think that this would unquestionably be a public good, but of course there was criticism of his efforts.

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After the Supreme Court compound wall, there is a road called Bhagwan Das Road. After crossing the road, there is a huge car parking and thereafter the building of Indian Law Institute. Within that compound of Indian Law Institute, is the Cigarettes & Refreshment Kiosk of Dharam Chand.

The SC in 2015 refused to allow such a kiosk for ‘security reasons’. It said:

“Merely because of the contention of the Appellant and the Respondents that after the Bomb Blasts took place in Delhi High Court compound in 2011, no such incident happened till date, it cannot be presumed that such incident will not happen in a near future. The Court cannot assume and presume that there is no threat to the safety and security of the Supreme Court and its vicinity and allow the Appellant to continue the said business.”

When the SC cannot ‘assume and presume’ that there is no threat to its safety and security, how can it allow mobile phones and other such electronic devices inside its Courtrooms?

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On 13.05.2017, the question had its first testing:

Tweet Deck

This debate is sure to gain further momentum.

I am reminded of a scene in Infernal Affairs (2002, dir: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak) where a cell phone is used to send a Morse Code signal. GB’s efforts are laudable. But while encouraging ‘Live Tweeting’ we must not forget to assess the security threat those tweeting phones pose to the Supreme Court.

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The Bombay High Court recently banned mobile phones and any other audio/video recording devices inside Courtrooms and said a violation of the ban would attract a Contempt of Court charge. While lawyers were exempted, the Court said it would make no arrangements for safekeeping of mobile phones and that it would be litigants’ and visitors’ headache to find a safe place to leave their phone before entering a Courtroom.

VS offered a similar solution, “to step up security to ensure that only those people allowed to take mobile phones in are able to do so” [See Box].

Earlier in time, lawyers engaged in pure Court Practice were discouraged to academically contribute to journals. It is hard to find articles written by Senior Advocates, when they were young and restless, though when joining the Bar, Arvind Datar had exceptionally set a goal for himself to write a nationally known law book by his 30th birthday.

Times have changed. Some fantastic lawyers run law blogs such as IndiaCorpLaw, Law and Other Things, Spicy IP. There are websites too like Bar & Bench, Legally India, Live Law, manned by advocates, whose reportage of Court Proceedings have a journalistic tinge. Indeed many “gown and band waalas” travel to Court everyday not to argue or assist but to observe and report. In circumstances such as these, it is often impossible to distinguish between the Journalist, with his education in Journalism, sitting in the Visitor’s Box and the Advocate, with his education in Legal Theory and Method, sitting in the Advocate’s Box. And yet in practice, the latter carries his mobile phone, inside the SC Courtroom, without sanction or shame and the former has his temporarily confiscated.

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I intuitively conclude at this juncture that mobile phones inside Courtrooms undermine the Judicial Process. One should be not be allowed to record, broadcast or communicate with outsiders while inside Courtrooms without specific permission from the Court itself. Even if mobile phones are part of our free speech rights, those rights should stand forfeited in the name of security, sanctity and a simple order of the Court.

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