By Elton Gomes
A lower court in Hazaribagh has come under fire for trying a criminal case through instant messaging app, WhatsApp. The case has now reached the Supreme Court, regarding how this sort of a “joke” was permitted in an Indian court of law.
The case involves a former Jharkhand minister Yogendra Sao and his wife and MLA Nirmala Devi. A lower court judge in Hazaribagh put Sao and his wife on trial by framing charges against them via a WhatsApp call, despite their rejections.
What is the case?
Sao and his wife have been accused in a rioting case of 2016. Both were granted bail in 2017, on the condition that they would remain in Bhopal and not enter Jharkhand, except for attending court proceedings. Sao and his wife have told the Supreme Court that the judge from the trial court framed charges against them through a WhatsApp call.
How has the SC responded?
A bench comprising Justices S.A. Bobde and L.N. Rao severely criticised the submissions and said, “What is happening in Jharkhand. This process cannot be allowed, and we cannot allow administration of justice to be brought into disrepute”.
“We are here on the way of trial being conducted through WhatsApp. This cannot be done. What kind of a trial is this? Is this a kind of joke?” the bench asked the counsel appearing for Jharkhand, PTI reported.
The Supreme Court bench then issued a notice to Jharkhand concerning the plea by the accused. Sao and his wife have now sought transfer of their cases from Hazaribagh to New Delhi, and have asked the state to give a response within two weeks.
Senior Advocate says video conferencing was permitted earlier
Appearing for the couple, senior advocate Vivek Tankha said that the accused were granted bail on December 15, 2017, by the Supreme Court. “The trial was directed to be conducted through video conferencing from district court in Bhopal and district court in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand,” he said, according to a PTI report. Tankha then said that since video conferencing connectivity was “very low” most of the times in Bhopal and Hazaribagh district courts, the judge decided to pronounce the trial through a WhatsApp call instead.
Bombay HC says issuing notice via WhatsApp is valid
The use of WhatsApp in various aspects of Indian law has not been uncommon. In June, the Bombay High Court permitted a party to serve a legal notice through WhatsApp. The court allowed the move after it noted that the notice was sent as PDF document and it had been received and read by the other party. Justice Gautam Patel examined the WhatsApp message and said, “I will accept this notice because the icon indicators clearly show that not only was the message and its attachment delivered to the respondent’s number, but that both were opened by him,” the Free Press Journal reported.
Recently, in August, a Delhi judge ruled that the court’s order in a case of domestic violence will be sent to the husband and his relatives through WhatsApp. It can be said that WhatsApp is a speedy way to ensure that justice is served. As WhatsApp has a deadly fake news problem on its hands, Indian courts will have to exercise caution while using the app.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius