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Right to fair trial at stake with videoconference hearings, says report

The Report said the accused person’s ability to participate in the proceedings that impact their right to life and liberty was affected by the online hearings. File Photo.  

An accused person’s rights to a fair trial was at stake with videoconference hearings that have become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said on Thursday.

Drawing from the experiences of 20 lawyers and 10 judicial officers across the country, the CHRI report found there were some apparent deficiencies in the infrastructure. It added that the accused person’s ability to participate in the proceedings that impact their right to life and liberty was affected by the online hearings.

According to data provided by the Supreme Court e-Committee to the Department of Justice, 14,443 courtrooms were yet to be equipped with videoconferencing facilities, while 3,477 courtrooms had been provided with the facilities as of September 2020, the report said. Out of 1,350 prisons in the country, 1,272 prisons had been equipped with videoconferencing facilities, it said.

The judicial officers said they asked the accused about their well-being but found there was lack of neutrality as the phones of police officers would often be used for the hearings and they would not be able to see the body of the accused or see them walking.

The report suggested: “Vital stages of a criminal proceeding — first remand, police custody remand, framing of charge, recording of evidence of key witnesses, final arguments on conviction and sentencing in complex cases — are not replicable on a videoconferencing hearing, regardless of the efficiency of the technology used. Thus, existing rules and guidelines must restrict the use of videoconferencing for these hearings, and affirm the mandate for physical hearings in each of these stages.”

It added that magistrates should ensure that they can see the whole body of the accused and not just the face during the hearing. The accused should be produced from a videoconferencing facility inside the court and not the police station, the report said. How the system works should be explained to the accused and the accused should be given access to the device, it said.

“It is imperative that the videoconference hearings are not forced upon the accused, and the informed consent of the accused is taken to conduct these hearings,” it said.


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 7:30:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/right-to-fair-trial-at-stake-with-videoconference-hearings-says-report/article34550792.ece

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