The Advent of the Concept of Video Conferencing in Criminal Trials: Need and Benefits
By Vidhan Maheshwari
The law must
keep pace with scientific developments and other contemporary changes in the
society. Keeping this in mind the Supreme Court in the case of Som Prakash v. State of Delhi
rightly observed that “in our
technological age nothing more primitive can be conceived of than denying
discoveries and nothing cruder can retard forensic efficiency than swearing by
traditional oral evidence only thereby discouraging the liberal use of
scientific aids to prove guilt.” Statutory
changes are needed to develop more fully a problem solving approach to
criminal trials and to deal with heavy workload on the investigators and
judges. One example of such kind of change is the introduction of the concept
of Video Conferencing in Indian
Criminal Justice system. Video conferencing is an advancement in science and
technology which permits one to see, hear and talk with someone far away, with
the same facility and ease as if he is present before you i.e. in your
presence. The concept as a tool has been utilized in two ways i.e. firstly for taking evidences in special
circumstances and secondly for
producing the undertrials before the Court for the purposes of extension remand
or otherwise from the prison itself. In
Use of Video Conferencing for taking evidences:
The Court in
the case of State of
The Court came to the conclusion that so long as the accused or his pleader are present when evidence is recorded by video conferencing that evidence is being recorded in the ‘presence’ of the accused and would thus fully satisfy the requirements of Section 273 of the Code. Recording of such evidence would be as per “procedure established by law”.
The ratio of
Thus also in cases where the presence is necessary under Order 18 Rule 4(3) of the Code of Civil Procedure, it does not necessarily mean physical presence. Rule 4(3) provides for recording evidence either by writing or mechanically in the presence of judge.
In case of Dharmand Pant v. State of U.P. the Court held that evidence against the accused should be recorded in his presence and in open Court so that the accused may have an opportunity to effectively cross-examine the witness, and the presiding officer may hear the witness and observe his demeanour. Video Conferencing satisfies all these objects sought to be achieved by requiring the witness to be physically present. The accused is not prejudiced in any way whatsoever by video conferencing. The accused and his pleader can see the witness as clearly as if the witness is actually present before them. The judge and the defence will be able to observe the witness’s demeanour. In fact, the facility of play back in video conferencing, which permits the Court and the parties to hear and rehear the evidence, would enable better observation of demeanour and better cross examination of the witness. Furthermore, the witness can be confronted with documents and other materials in the same manner as if he was in Court.
The Court in Praful Desai case also laid down the
procedure to be followed when recording evidence through vide conferencing. The
accused and his legal counsel should be present for video conference. The
accused should be permitted to cross-examine the witness and place documents
before the witness. An officer deputed from the Indian Embassy or Consulate, or
Use of Video Conferencing for Prison and Court Linkage:
The production of remand prisoners before the Courts is the responsibility of the prison officials and they can discharge the responsibility by making necessary arrangements with the police. So in a country where 75% of the prison population is undertrial remand prisoners, the production of them before the Courts is a daunting task. Other than this the threat to public safety in the event of escape of prisoner is always there. There are many reported instances where the undertrials were murdered during their custody. Besides all these, the finances involved in producing undertrials are also huge. To overcome all these problems and also to administer speedy justice to undertrials, a relatively new concept of penal reform has been accepted providing a video linkage between prisons and Courts. The concept is similar to the concept of adducing evidences through video conferencing as discussed in the earlier part. Many states including Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have amended Section 167 Cr.P.C so as to provide for production of the accused persons to the magistrate through electronic video linkage for the purpose of remand.
Following the state amendments studios have been setup in many central prisons and the Courts. On each working day at a specified hour the video-linkage is activated and the undertrial prisoner is presented before the camera within the jail premises. The Judge at the other end can see and listen to the prisoner and take a decision on the extension of remand or otherwise.
This innovative penal reform has been successful in many Courts and has many advantages like, the expenditure involved on deploying the police force for checking and as escorts to the undertrials is saved and the chance of the escape of prisoners is no more. Also the judiciary can dispose the cases of remand prisoners in short time and can concentrate on the trail cases.
A large number of men are held for minor offences which even when proved will attract punishment of less than a year, without even being sure of the day of the commencement of the trial under the label ‘under trials’.
It is not to say that law needs to progress in all manners with science and technology. Video conferencing is much needed since it saves the time of the Court and also of undertrials and ultimately helps in administration of justice. The advent of the concept will enable recording of evidence and do away with the risk in moving the high-risk prisoners who face trial in different Courts across the country. This will also enable recording of evidence of experts and also witnesses who reside abroad without incurring the enormous cost of bringing them to the trial Court. It is the need of the complexities of the modern times that the law also keeps on amending with the pace of the technology. The concept of video conferencing would definitely be a boon for justice as it would help Judges to be as correct as possible and understand the case with the help of all video recordings. These innovative methods of linking prison and Court through video linkage will ensure speedy trial and remove the hardships of the undertrials. It should also be kept in mind that if the Law Courts do not permit technology development in the Court proceedings it would be bagging behind compared to other sectors.
 1974 Cri. LJ 784
 (2003) 4 SCC 601
 Francis Bennion, Statutory Interpretation, 2nd Edn., Page 617; the principles of updating construction as enuciated by Francis Bennion has been approved by he Court in plethora of cases, Commissioner of Income Tax, Bombay v. Podar Cement Pvt. Ltd., State v. S.J Choudhury, Basavaraj R. Patil v. State of Karnataka.
 The Confrontation Clause in the American Constitution, read with rules 10 and 43 of the Fedral Rules of Criminal Procedure (USA), provide that in all criminal prosecutions, the accusd shall have a right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.
915 Federal Republic 2d. 1276. Also in case of John Avery Coy v. Lowa, 487
 1957Cri LJ 894
 For example the State of