'Fatalities will increase if courts open for physical hearing': CJI
- The bench cited instances of High Courts which had to close down after resuming physical courts as Covid-19 began to spread.
Medical advice to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and other judges of the Supreme Court has ruled out against the physical functioning of Courts for the present. Fatalities due to Covid-19 could rise with lawyers and judges congregating for open court hearings.
This was stated by CJI SA Bobde during the hearing of a petition filed by lawyer Nilakshi Chaudhary who demanded the reopening of courts. The lawyer, who appeared in person, expressed concerns over the smooth conduct of hearings through videoconferencing platform Vidyo through which the Supreme Court has been conducting virtual court proceedings since March last year.
Along with her petition, several bar associations too pleaded before the Court the cause of lawyers facing penury due to loss of work during the Covid-19 lockdown. Some state bar councils were even willing to stand as a guarantee if the Central government was willing to provide interest-free loans to the lawyers.
Ruling out any reopening of physical courts for the present, a three-judge bench headed by the CJI remarked, “We are facing problems in virtual court hearings for almost a year now. But we have also received medical advice from medical authorities that it is dangerous for people to congregate at this time. If physical courts are started, the number of fatalities will increase.”
The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, cited instances of High Courts which had to close down after resuming physical courts as Covid-19 began to spread. “In Madras High Court, lawyers are not coming for open court hearings. They have now stopped. Similarly, Rajasthan High Court too resumed physical court hearings but had to close down.”
The bench said that the decision to reopen the apex court is being periodically reviewed. “We will start after following medical advice and not without that. We will regularly revisit our decision,” the CJI remarked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta lauded the Court for keeping the Courts open through the difficult time of the pandemic by ensuring access to justice for litigants through virtual court proceedings.
“In a huge country like ours, the top court has not stopped the administration of justice even for a day. That is salutary,” Mehta said. On the aspect of providing financial aid to lawyers under financial distress, Mehta assured the Court of exploring possibilities by taking up the issue with the officers in the concerned department after consulting senior leaders of the bar.
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