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Do not want to contribute to rise in Covid cases: SC on limiting physical hearings

The bench was hearing a petition filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) which challenged the Supreme Court order of March 5 introducing limited physical hearing of cases beginning March 15
By Abraham Thomas
PUBLISHED ON MAR 12, 2021 02:14 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Friday erred on the side of caution by citing the surge in Covid-19 cases across many states to justify its decision to hold limited physical hearings.

A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta said, “We do not want to contribute to the situation... The troubling aspect is that Maharashtra is facing a serious problem.”

The bench was hearing a petition filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) which challenged the Supreme Court order of March 5 introducing limited physical hearing of cases beginning March 15.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who is also the president of SCBA, said that the recent surge in Covid-19 cases is because people are becoming irresponsible and not wearing masks. He said that the standard operating procedure prepared by the top court was taken out without discussion with the Bar.

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“I don’t want lawyers to die of starvation. The positivity rate of Covid-19 has come down to 0.3%. Lawyers are daily wagers. Today, the government has permitted 200 people to gather in closed spaces.”

The bench told Singh, “All of us were hesitant to use the virtual medium. But now we see many lawyers are beginning to use it. Ultimately all will use it but at the moment we are concerned what manner of hearing and to what extent should we open.”

The Court emphasised that medical opinion was the basis for the court to arrive at a decision of allowing limited physical hearing. Since the SCBA alleged that the Bar was not consulted on the SOP, the bench said, “We will call for the minutes of meeting that went into preparing the SOP.” The court will now hear the case on Tuesday.

On March 5, the Supreme Court issued a circular introducing hybrid mode of hearing cases in the top court. Only regular or old cases were to be taken up on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through physical hearing, provided that an advance request for physical hearing is made by the lawyer for the concerned party, according to the circular.

The circular stated that the pilot scheme was being tried out on an experimental basis based on recommendation of a Supreme Court Judges Committee of seven senior-most judges and requests by Bar Associations for resuming physical court.

SCBA alleged that this decision of the court was taken unilaterally without consulting the Bar. Although SCBA met the CJI on March 1 and the SCBA president wrote a letter to CJI on March 2, the SOP did not reflect the same.

The petition, filed through advocate Rahul Kaushik, said, “In the meeting of the Executive Committee of the SCBA with Chief Justice of India on March 1 regarding the physical/hybrid hearing, it was assured that the needful would be done by the Registry expeditiously taking into consideration the suggestions given by the Executive Committee of SCBA, however the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) dated March 5 has been issued unilaterally by the Registry.”

The SCBA wanted the hybrid option to be available even on Mondays and Fridays with right of uninhibited entry for lawyers into the high security zone of the court. The SOP required lawyers to make special entry passes for entry into the courtroom.

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