Supreme Court celebrates its foundation day for the first time

Live streaming and e-SCR, introduced last year, have fundamentally enhanced accessibility to the Supreme Court for common citizens.


ON February 4, the Supreme Court of India, serving the most populous democracy in the world, celebrated 73 years of its establishment.

The chief guest at the first foundation day celebration of the Supreme Court was the Chief Justice of Singapore, Sundaresh Menon, who delivered a lecture on ‘The Role of the Judiciary in a Changing World’. The ceremony was broadcast live on YouTube and other social media platforms. The welcome address was delivered by Justice S.K. Kaul, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud delivered an address too.

Journey so far

The Supreme Court came into existence on January 28, 1950, two days after the Constitution of India came into power and India became a sovereign, democratic republic.

The Supreme Court assumed its duties from its predecessor, the Federal Court of India, which was established under the Government of India Act, 1935 in 1937. Initially, the Supreme Court conducted its sitting in the Parliament House until it moved to its own building at Tilak Marg in New Delhi in 1958. In the words of Justice Kaul, the Supreme Court’s building “projects the scales of justice” that even a prosaic matter must necessarily be located within its virtue.

At its inception, the Supreme Court had a sanctioned strength of seven puisne judges and the CJI, but functioned at the actual strength of six judges, including the CJI. Now, the sanctioned strength stands at 34; currently, there are thirty-two judges on its bench after the Union Government cleared the elevation of five high court judges to its bench on February 4.

Singapore CJ’s address

Justice Menon, who has also served as the Attorney-General of Singapore, emphasised the need to adopt radical ways to impart justice in the ever-changing world, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic when the meaning of access to justice has changed drastically.

Referring to an arbitration dispute where submissions extended to more than 10,000 pages, Justice Menon remarked that the judiciary cannot rely solely on traditional case management tools to impart justice as this may compromise the expeditious disposal of cases.

He suggested that the judiciary will have to find ways to contain and downsize disputes or else it will face a real crisis of capacity.

Justice Menon had observed the proceedings of the Supreme Court in the CJI’s court a day before the foundation day. In his lecture, he termed the Supreme Court of India as one of the busiest in the world and its justices as some of the most hard-working because of their immense workload of cases.

Recent leaps in accessibility

In September last year, the Supreme Court, led by former CJI U.U. Lalit, started the live streaming of constitution bench matters. At present, live streaming of select proceedings is also happening at the high courts of Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Patna and Madhya Pradesh. However, the rest of the high courts as well as the tens of thousands of courts from the lower judiciary are yet to be equipped with live streaming of proceedings and the system of virtual courts in general.

The Supreme Court evolved the mode of virtual court proceedings, through online video conferencing in 2020 due to the national lockdown caused by the pandemic. CJI Dr. Chandrachud, who heads the Supreme Court’s e-Committee, has previously said that virtual courts are not going to replace physical courts. Rather, the virtual court system shows the flexibility of the Indian judicial system to ensure that access to justice is not denied even during the hardest of times. In fact, in a lecture last year, Justice Dr. Chandrachud had stated that virtual courts have allowed women to tackle gendered demands. He also remarked that it has been assumed that law and technology are at odds with each other because one protects the rights of individuals and the other fosters innovation, but added that they are interconnected. For instance, technology can help human rights organisations to more effectively record instances of human rights violations.

Expanding the horizons of access to justice, the Supreme Court has also made its reportable judgments available on the newly launched e-SCR (Supreme Court of India – Reportable Judgments) website. e-SCR allows easy access to judgments using keywords.

Gaps remain

While e-SCR is a commendable step, substantive accessibility of court premises and availability of judgments for disabled persons remains a matter of concern.

The Supreme Court in Vikash Kumar versus Union Public Service Commission & Ors. (2021) declared the right to reasonable accommodation, which is a matter of equalisation of opportunities for effective social participation, as a fundamental right for the disabled. It said, “For instance, for a visually impaired person, the reasonable accommodation she requires might consist of screen magnification software or a screen reader [which can speak out the content on a computer screen in a mechanical voice]. It might also consist of content being made available in Braille and a sighted assistant.”

Despite the judgment, the Supreme Court is yet to establish uniform rules allowing disabled persons to access the court and its judgments. Interestingly, some high courts have comparatively been proactive in this content.

Last year, the Delhi High Court in Shivam Soni versus State (GNCTD)  observed that in the context of Section 12 (access to justice) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016, a duty is cast upon the appropriate court to ensure all public documents are in accessible formats. It is further mandated to make available all necessary facilities and equipment to facilitate the recording of testimonies, arguments or opinions given by persons with disabilities in their preferred language and means of communication during court proceedings.

“Right to access to justice includes the right to receive documents to which the parties are legally entitled in the language and means of communication decipherable by them, Justice Anoop Kumar Mendiratta wrote in his judgment. In this case, both the petitioner and the prosecutrix were persons with disabilities.

In terms of the right to reasonable accommodation, the Supreme Court is yet to modify its appearance slip to include an additional column for mentioning people’s pronouns. This request was sent by Rohin Bhatt, a queer lawyer practicing at the Supreme Court.

It is understood that the Supreme Court will continue to celebrate its foundation day annually.