NOTEBOOK Comment

Court-hopping at the click of a mouse

A few years ago, an elderly reporter of inexhaustible zest and curiosity began his daily work of covering the Supreme Court from his usual spot — right under the judges’ noses.

One of the judges, noticing the physical proximity of the man to the dais, turned to him frowning. “Who are you,” he asked as the reporter continued to jot down the court’s observations, including this question, oblivious that the entire courtroom was now focused on him.

Also read | Shirtless men, screaming vendors and mothers make their way into virtual Supreme Court hearings

The veteran scribe collected his nerves admirably, bowed to the Bench, ever respectfully, and introduced himself and his employer. The judge asked him to keep his distance from the podium, probably move to the rear end of the courtroom. The reporter bowed and dutifully retreated, only to doggedly move forward within the next few minutes to catch a juicy remark falling from the Bench during the hearing.

COVID-19 changed it all last year. Reporters stopped being physically present at Supreme Court hearings. The first few days were a jumble. The court experimented with allowing only three reporters entry into a courtroom. The rest had to wait outside or try to sneak in. This reporter, of rather bulky proportions, could not tiptoe past the ever-vigilant Delhi Police personnel stationed outside the courtroom.

Over the next few days, the virus flexed its muscles. The Supreme Court shed its physical operations and turned to virtual mode. While judges and lawyers functioned from homes, reporters were invited to watch the proceedings online on desktop monitors arranged at a nearby annexe building. On the bright side, we could gawk at the lovely homes of senior lawyers displayed on the screens and overhear their chit-chat. We spotted a couple of shirtless male lawyers too. Though we missed the hurly-burly of the court and scampering from one courtroom to another, changing courtrooms on the screen with a click of a mouse saved sweat and time.

 

At times, though, poor connectivity irked the judges. Echoes, the background noise of dogs barking, vendors and, once, even a mother scolding a child to finish his breakfast encroached into the hearings.

Things changed again before the second wave hit. The court opened a new press lounge inside the complex. Here, reporters could watch the proceedings on personal laptops instead of a common monitor. But by then the virus had caught up with us in earnest. Some of us fell sick along with the world around us. The court went through a harrowing time. Many lost their colleagues and close friends.

Then a new Chief Justice was sworn in. A former journalist himself, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana understood that, like judges and lawyers, reporters need to be safe while doing their job. In early May, the court, steered by its e-Commmittee headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, launched a software that allowed reporters to stay at home and watch Supreme Court proceedings on their mobile phones. Technology had brought the apex court’s hearings into our homes.

Also read | The promise and perils of digital justice delivery

But I still think about the elderly reporter. It has been quite a long time since I heard his breathless voice over the phone in the evenings after a ‘physical’ day in court, asking “Hey, what happened in *** case? I was in the other courtroom and couldn’t make it here in time.”


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 2:09:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/court-hopping-at-the-click-of-a-mouse/article34843184.ece

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