Carrying cell-phones in the courtroom can have both advantages as well as disadvantages of itself. For example, if a person is a student or an intern, it would be beneficial for him/her to carry his/her mobile phone to the courtroom and record the proceedings either in audio format or in video format for later research purposes. But, on the other hand, it can have disadvantages also, if a person records a passing of judgment by a judge and later post that on social media or online platforms to blackmail the judge. There are many High Courts in the country to pass a judgment as to whether mobile-phones should be or should not be allowed inside courtrooms depending upon circumstances of the case. Furthermore, there is a decision of the Supreme Court which allowed journalists to carry mobile phones inside the courtrooms. We shall discuss these three judgments in the article.
Bombay High Court Judgment
Bombay High Court ruled in the year 2017 that taking mobile-phones and any other device to record audio/video would not be allowed and would subsequently invite proceedings as under Contempt of Court. However, lawyers are not supposed to abide by this ruling but, it has to be the complete responsibility of the litigants or the visitors to look for a safe place for their mobile-phones before entering the courtroom because the court premises shall not be responsible for a theft of the same.
As per the official records of the Bombay High Court almost 1500-2000 cases are filed in all the courtrooms of the high court and almost 1000 litigants enter the premises on a daily basis. The High Court circulated a notification saying, “Both the litigants and the attendees/general public are hereby informed that they will not be allowed to carry or film cell telephones, cameras or audio/video captors in the courtroom, these belongings should not be carried inside the courtroom by any means”. It also stated that, “if anyone is found using these article within the courtroom premises it shall be confiscated and a certain amount of fine will be imposed and in addition the person will also be liable for action as under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 as well as other penal acts inter-alia”.
A spokesperson of the High Court also said that, “No arrangements are being made for the safekeeping of the belongings of the public, even in the Supreme Court, the administration does not provide for a specific place for safekeeping of the mobile phones and other belongings”.
Once, a lawyer in a case recorded a video of the then Chief Justice of the High Court, Ms. Manjula Chellur, although she did not take any action against the offender. This was one of the incidents which led to the ban on carrying the mobile phones inside the premises. Another such incident which led to the ban was, a litigant recorded a video of a reputed judge of the High Court and posted it on social media captioned “Exposed”. It was an alleged sting operation albeit the audio and video was not very clear.
Madras High Court Judgment
The Madras High Court bench ruled in the year 2017 a few months after the Bombay High Court judgment (as discussed above) that a person cannot be held liable and be punished under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 for talking over a mobile phone while the proceedings in the court are underway unless the presiding judge in the courtroom has taken suo-moto cognizance of the same.
The concerned judgment was delivered over by Justice K. Chandru who dismissed an application of Contempt of Court filed by an advocate K. Neelamegam against Sivaganga Revenue Divisional Officer Durga Moorthi whereby he accused her of using her mobile phone to talk while the proceedings were under way in the Court Room 4 of the High Court presided over by Justice K Venkatraman on 15 June 2017 and which was a strike day for lawyers.
As far as the present case is considered, the RDO apologized unconditionally just after the application for Contempt of Court was filed against her stating that it was rather a very important call from the collector and that she talked just for two minutes without causing any type of disturbance to the Hon’ble Judge presiding over at the court that time. The judge quoted that, “it will be against the law to punish a person for an act which is not prohibited by any law as an offence”.
Supreme Court Judgment
Both accredited and non-accredited journalists were allowed to carry their mobile phones inside the courtroom for the first time by a ruling of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the year 2018 but provided that the mobile phones must be on silent mode. The ruling also had a warning clause that if the particular mobile phone caused any type of disturbance inside the courtroom premises then it would be confiscated by the court authorities.
Months before this particular ruling only accredited journalists were allowed to carry their mobile phones inside the courtroom premises. But a few numbers of journalists went to the Chief Justice of India with their appeal to allow the non-accredited journalists also, to carry their mobile phones inside the courtroom premises since many journalists use their mobile phones to record any official statement being released by the Court Authorities.
Furthermore, there is no written order anywhere which specifically denies carrying mobile phones inside the courtroom premises but rather it was an administrative order.
This article is authored by Anurag Mohan Bhatnagar, student of B.A.LLB. (Hons.) at National Law University Odisha.