It is commonplace these days to hear that mainstream media in India has been captured by political and corporate heavyweights. What goes less noticed is how specific providers of news have used social media and the internet very effectively to make it far easier for the public to access independent live reportage. This piece focuses on two such providers: “‘LiveLaw’ and ‘Bar & Bench’ have revolutionised legal reporting by tweeting about proceedings in real time, bringing them to the screens of general readers.” These platforms now enjoy high credibility and high followership not just amongst the legal cognoscenti but also amongst their clientele: “On November 19, Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India made a passing comment while hearing a case. “I will tell you something in a lighter vein,” he said. “Instead of wading through the pleadings before us, I thought I will check LiveLaw or other platforms for the documents.”
Chandrachud’s remark was an acknowledgement of the tremendous impact that legal affairs websites have had on court proceedings in India over the past few years. Two publications in particular – LiveLaw and Bar & Bench – stand out for their extensive coverage of court proceedings….
Even though television cameras are banned inside courts, these publications offer updates in near-real time with their live tweeting about proceedings. In addition, they are valued for the speed at which they upload not just court orders and judgments but also the petitions and pleadings of a case – resources that were available, until recently, only to the lawyers in the particular matter….
Following LiveLaw and Bar & Bench has given lay readers greater knowledge about the intricacies of the law. “A client once read a piece and came and asked me several questions,” said a Hyderabad-based lawyer. “He asked why when the cases were identical and was before the same bench, I took adjournment and the other lawyer succeeded in getting an order.””
The Scroll article highlights specific ways in which this new generation of news provider is an improvement on the old-style newspaper reportage: “Two High Court judges told Scroll.in that they read LiveLaw or Bar & Bench every morning and evening. “…I think their coverage is much wider than the newspapers,” one of the judges explained.
He said that despite being a judge, it had not been easy to keep tabs on important developments in other courtrooms, other High Courts and the Supreme Court. But that has changed with the phenomenal “width and depth” of coverage on the sites, he said.”
Secondly, due to the new real time and in-depth nature of reporting done by these sites, lawyers can now use the latest case verdicts in court as precedents: “Before the boom in legal reporting on the internet, if lawyers read about an important case from the Supreme Court in the press, they still had to wait for weeks for the judgement to be reported in legal journals to understand the matter completely, the High Court judge said.
“You cannot show a newspaper clipping to a judge and ask him to apply the precedent in the case you are arguing,” he said. “The judge will throw you out of the courtroom.” On these websites, the judge said, he gets not only the happenings in other courtrooms reported word for word, but also a copy of the order or the judgement with the report. “So when I read the news report, I get the gist,” he said. “I can then read the order immediately to see if the reporting is accurate. So I am always ready with the new developments.”
The extensive reportage on courtroom arguments and the access these websites offer to petitions and pleadings gives them the edge. In the past, “unless you knew the lawyers involved in the case personally, there was no chance of getting hold of these documents”, said Divyanshu Rai, a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court. “But now, it is all there on the websites.””
And thirdly, the rise of these sites is giving women a chance to make their mark in what has historically been a male dominated profession: “In a profession that is often adversarial to women, with very few female big-ticket lawyers or higher court judges, the presence of Pallavi Saluja as the head of Bar & Bench’s editorial team cannot be overstated.
Saluja said that the reason she feels empowered comes not just from running a newsroom but also from the fact that it has a majority of women. “You can say our gender ratio is 7:3 in favour of women,” she said.”
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