Supreme Court: Considering the non-negotiable nature of the need to ensure safety and security of stakeholders in the judicial process, the bench of S. Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Datta, JJ has issued guidelines to implement security measures in Courts across the country, with regard to a) Installation of CCTV cameras and other measures to ensure security within court premises; and b) digitisation of Judicial Infrastructure.
The Court emphasized the importance of implementing security measures to ensure that litigants can secure justice for themselves, especially in light of recent incidents involving gunshots within court premises. It observed that,
“Would not hope for the litigants who visit the temples of justice dwindle, if the very halls of justice lack the shield of security? How can the litigants secure justice for them when those entrusted to render justice are themselves insecure? These are questions which disturb us to no end, considering certain recent happenings involving firing of gun shots within the precincts of courts in India.”
The court took note of recent incidents that have compromised the safety and security of judges and court stakeholders, including lapses in court security and the tragic death of an Additional Sessions Judge posted at Dhanbad in the state of Jharkhand, on 28.07.2021, who succumbed to his injuries after being hit by an auto-rickshaw while taking a morning walk. The court emphasized the need for strict security protocols and measures to be implemented and enforced to prevent such incidents from occurring. The court also notes that systemic measures are necessary to maintain faith in the judicial system, beyond the installation of CCTV cameras. While immediate measures are important, the court stresses the need for long-term solutions to address issues compromising the safety and security of all stakeholders in the justice delivery system.
It was observed that,
“Preserving the sanctity of a court as a space where justice is administered and the rule of law upheld being non-negotiable, it is critical that judicial institutions take comprehensive steps to safeguard the well-being of all stakeholders. Such incidents, that too in court premises, are deeply concerning and pose significant risks to the safety of not only judges but lawyers, court staff, litigants and the general public.”
Guidelines on Security Measures
a) There ought to be a security plan in place, in line with the recommendations herein, to be prepared by the High Courts in consultation with the Principal Secretaries, Home Departments of each State Government and the Director Generals of Police of the States/Union Territories or the Commissioners of Police wherever a court complex is within the jurisdiction of a Police Commissionerate, as the case may be, which should be timely implemented at the state & district levels covering District Headquarters and other courts in outlying areas as well.
b) The security plan may include proposal for setting up of permanent Court Security Unit(s) in each complex, indicating the strength and source of drawing of manpower including armed/unarmed personnel and supervisory officer(s) for each such unit, the minimum term and mode of deployment of such manpower, list of duties and additional financial benefits for such manpower, as may be offered to secure their willingness to serve in such Units, special modules for training and sensitizing such manpower in matters of Court security, and miscellaneous matters related to such Units;
c) The schematics of CCTV camera installation will have to be laid down on a district-wise basis where the respective State Governments should provide the requisite funds for the execution of such a plan in a timely manner.
d) In newly constructed court complexes, there appears to be a lack of consistency regarding the installation of CCTV cameras, whether it should be done before or after inauguration. The installation of CCTV cameras should be an integral part of the construction project of courts, and therefore should be prioritized.
e) To address concerns regarding data and privacy, the High Courts may take appropriate measures or draft necessary guidelines in this regard.
f) Further, upon the finalisation of the security plan, the High Courts may entrust the responsibility of installation and maintenance of the CCTV cameras with the concerned District and Sessions Judges for a more realistic analysis of local requirements.
g) Keeping in mind the lax security measures at entry-exit points within several court complexes, we deem it necessary to recommend that these points may be secured by constant monitoring with the help of adequate security equipment. In this regard, the courts may consider putting in place security measures such as deployment of adequate police personnel, security stickers for vehicles, frisking, metal detectors, baggage scanners, court-specific entry passes, and biometric devices to enhance overall security. Other security measures may include regulating the use of court premises as thoroughfares, if necessary, even by way of total prohibition.
h) There have been various concerns regarding the operation of various shops and vendors within court premises which may result in potential security lapses. In this regard, the relevant authorities may keep a strict check on the relevant permissions required for their continued operations.
i) It may be ensured that emergency measures like ambulances, medical facilities and firefighting services are immediately available and modernised within court complexes and unimpeded access of such vehicles to the premises is assured at all times. This includes ensuring unhindered movement and keeping the court complex vicinity free from traffic and parking congestion.
Guidelines on Digitisation of Judicial Infrastructure
a) This Court has, on multiple occasions, stressed the need for digitisation of judicial infrastructure, particularly at district levels. There are many courts which lack facilities to live stream court proceedings as well as facilities to record trials. Hence, these issues should be looked into, in the right earnest by the High Courts.
b) With a futuristic vision, we need to progress with implementing fresh and innovative ideas so that the possibility of any untoward incident in any court premises is avoided. Initiatives like Audiovisual (AV) technology/Videoconferencing (VC) facility for recording of evidence and testimonies in trial, live-streaming of court proceedings at all levels, establishing e-SEWA Kendras, particularly in remote areas may also be considered accordingly.
The Court left it to the discretion of the Chief Justices of the High Courts to decide, looking at the concerns related to safety and security within Court complexes, if the matter of addressing such concerns is to be delegated to the respective State Court Management Systems Committee or to a specially constituted committee with members drawn from various quarters (such as judges/judicial officers, the civil and police administration, the municipal corporations/municipalities, the members of the bar, the members of the registry and the staff, etc.), as the case may be. It has not escaped our notice that many of these court management system committees, which were envisaged to ensure better management of courts and cases, have largely been dysfunctional.
“While the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has accelerated the penetration of technology in courts, considerable work needs to be yet accomplished, particularly at the district and the taluka levels. Hopeful of the aforesaid recommendations paving the way for securing the safety of all stakeholders as well as facilitating safe environment for fair, free and effective access to justice and progress of trial without any party/witness being under fear of being harmed, we impress upon the High Courts to prioritize these issues and take appropriate measures at the earliest, if not already taken.”
The Court also took note of the fact that various High Courts and other court complexes have already in place several measures including installation of CCTV cameras at all tiers. Hence, made clear that these recommendations are only meant for those courts which are yet to put in place adequate measures for tackling any untoward incident.
Preliminary action-taken reports on the aspect of security measures as well as digitisation in line with the aforesaid guidelines are to be filed by the High Courts by 10.10. 2023. The matter will now be taken up on 12.10.2023.
[Pradyuman Bisht v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 983, order dated 11.08.2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Amicue Curiae(s): Mr. Sidharth Luthra, Sr. Adv.;