Integrity vs transparency

June 16, 2024

Supreme Court proceedings were not live-streamed over concerns of political exploitation

Integrity vs  transparency


Supreme Court bench recently raised concerns about live-streaming. The bench was seized of a petition against legislation amending National Accountability Ordinance. The court feared that live streaming could be exploited for political grandstanding and detract from the administration of justice.

As a result, the bench decided not to live-stream the proceedings of the case, despite SC proceedings having been live-streamed in the past. The decision, while justified as a means protect the integrity of the court and ensure that discussions remained focused on relevant legal matters, not political issues, could not have come at a more important time.

The decision to not live-stream certain court proceedings due to concerns about potential misuse for political purposes could be seen as prudent in maintaining the focus on legal matters and the integrity of the judicial process. Such a position could be seen as preventing the legal proceedings from becoming a platform for political showmanship, which could undermine the seriousness and impartiality expected in judicial contexts. However, the approach could also be viewed as limiting transparency, which is crucial for public trust in the Judiciary. Balancing transparency with the need to safeguard the integrity of the court proceedings is a complex issue.

Integrity vs  transparency

The debate over whether to live-stream court proceedings is therefore again a question of transparency and the integrity of the judicial process.Transparency in the judicial system refers to the openness, clarity and accountability of legal proceedings to the public. This concept is grounded in the principle that justice should not only be done but also be seen being done. This promotes public understanding and trust in the Judiciary by allowing insights into procedural fairness and decision-making processes.

Judicial integrity, on the other hand, is all about adherence to ethical guidelines and the commitment to administer justice without bias, undue influence or external pressure. This includes ensuring that the proceedings are conducted in a manner that is fair to all parties and based solely on legal merits, without any performative or extrajudicial influences.

High-profile cases attract significant public and media interest. Allowing media access to the courtroom can ensure that the people are informed about the judicial process and the administration of justice. However, extensive media coverage can lead to sensationalism, potentially influencing public opinion and by extension the jury.

The balancing exercise between transparency and judicial integrity involves carefully weighing the benefits of open judicial processes against the potential risks to the impartiality, independence and fairness of the Judiciary. In many jurisdictions, family law proceedings, such as divorce or child custody cases, are held in open court. This ensures that the public can observe and understand the judicial process, which promotes trust and accountability. However, the sensitive nature of family law cases often requires protecting the privacy of the parties involved, especially children. Courts may therefore decide to anonymise the identities of the parties or hold parts of the proceedings in private to protect their interests. The relevant court might allow the media to report on the case but impose restrictions on disclosing the identities of minors or specific details that could harm the individuals involved.

High-profile criminal trials often attract significant public and media interest. Allowing media access to the courtroom can ensure that the public is informed about the judicial process and the administration of justice. However, extensive media coverage can lead to sensationalism, potentially influencing public opinion and by extension the jury. This might undermine the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Judges may therefore impose “gag orders” limiting what the media can report during the trial, sequester the jury to shield them from external influences, or move the trial to a different jurisdiction to ensure impartiality.

Then there are cases that involve national security. Publishing judicial decisions in such cases is crucial for public understanding and scrutiny of how laws are applied. However, total transparency in such cases might endanger public safety or reveal sensitive information. Courts may therefore allow publication of only redacted versions of their decisions, where sensitive information has been omitted. This approach ensures that the public is informed about the judicial reasoning while also safeguarding national security interests.

Live-streaming of Supreme Court hearings allows the public to witness the judicial process in real time, promoting transparency. It also has educational value. But continuous public exposure might subject judges to increased public pressure or scrutiny, potentially affecting their independence and impartiality. In many jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, courts might choose to live-stream only specific cases of high public interest or provide recorded sessions with a slight delay. This method balances the need for public access with protecting judges from immediate public reaction.

When politics is involved, the balance between transparency and judicial integrity becomes even more complex and sensitive. Political cases often attract intense public and media scrutiny. The stakes are typically higher due to potential implications for governance, public trust and societal stability. High-profile political trials, such as those involving corruption charges against former prime ministers or senior officials, are of immense public interest. Transparency in these trials is crucial for public trust and accountability, as the outcomes can significantly impact political dynamics and governance.

The Judiciary, however, must remain impartial and independent. Political trials can subject judges to immense pressure from political parties, media and the public. There is a risk that the Judiciary may be perceived as biased or influenced by political agendas. It is to balance these interests, that courts have allowed media coverage with certain limits to control the narrative including by limiting live broadcasts and instead providing detailed summaries and updates. Courts also allow for the issuance of public statements emphasising the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary. These ensure that judges presiding over such cases have strong protections against external pressures and are seen as above reproach.

In Pakistan, the involvement of politics in judicial matters necessitates a delicate and strategic approach to balance transparency with judicial integrity. The judiciary must navigate the complexities of political influence, public scrutiny and the need to maintain impartiality and independence. Comprehensive measures need to be adopted to strike this balance rather than creating extreme environments. Measures such as controlled media coverage, robust legal frameworks, independent judicial panels and strong security protocols, can enable the courts to uphold the principles of transparency and judicial integrity in politically charged contexts.

The writer is an advocate of the high court, a founding partner at LexMercatoria and a visiting teacher at Bahria University’s Law Department. She can be reached at

Integrity vs transparency