Petition in SC seeks order that HCs don’t dispense with virtual court hearings

ByAbraham Thomas
Sep 16, 2021 11:45 AM IST

The petition has been filed by National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice along with former Central Information Commissioner and RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi along with former Mumbai Police commissioner Julio Ribeiro

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by a body of litigants and two eminent citizens seeking access to justice through virtual courts as a matter of fundamental right for the litigants. The plea has also sought a directive for the high courts not to discontinue with the option of videoconferencing and virtual courts without the permission of the Supreme Court’s e-committee.

The Supreme Court. (HT archive)
The Supreme Court. (HT archive)

The petition has been filed by National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice along with former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) and RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi along with former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro.

The petition filed on Wednesday has specifically challenged the decision taken by two High Courts to withdraw virtual court hearing and resume physical hearing. The Uttarakhand High Court had issued a notification in this regard on August 10 followed by a similar circular issued by Gujarat High Court on August 16.

The petition, drafted by advocate Siddharth R Gupta, said: “The decisions of Gujarat and Uttarakhand High Court dispensing with the hearing through the virtual mode of court proceedings is challenged fundamentally on the ground of denial of Fundamental Right of access to justice, which has now come to be acclaimed as a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India.”

The petition further stated that the order passed by the two High Courts need to be set aside as “all the other High Courts of the country shall follow suit with the issuance of similar such orders and for this reason therefore the impugned decisions of Uttarakhand and Gujarat High Courts are a death knell for the very idea of Virtual Courts which is still in the embryonic stage.”

Filed through advocate Mrigank Prabhakar, it added that virtual courts have also been propagated by the e-committee of the Supreme Court as the most accessible, affordable, transparent, and cheap mode of justice available to the litigant of the country, especially those coming from the marginalized sections.

Besides demanding setting aside the orders of Gujarat and Uttarakhand High Courts, one of the prayers in the petition seeks an order “restraining any other High Court or any other Constitutional Court of the country from discontinuing or dispensing with the option of video conferencing and Virtual Courts of any class/category of cases/proceedings being heard by it without the express leave of this Court.”

Pointing to the advantages of virtual court hearings, the petition said, “A lawyer from a native district of the litigant can be ably engaged for appearing through video conferencing mode before the Constitutional Courts by the concerned litigant, without being compelled to travel all the way to the seat of respective High Court/ Supreme Court and then following the legal processes there. Thus, justice has become extremely localized from the viewpoint of a litigant.”

The National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice claimed to be an umbrella body of more than 115 registered societies campaigning for judicial reforms and working at the grass root level to provide access to Justice for the poor, marginalized and the economically weaker sections of the country.

On September 6, apex court had sought the responses of the Bar Council of India, the Supreme Court Bar Association and High Courts of Uttarakhand and Gujarat on a petition filed by All India Association of Jurists, claiming to be a body of 5000 lawyers to continue with virtual court hearings in hybrid form.

The bench, while issuing notice, had observed that the petition seemed to be in the interest of lawyers and not litigants. The bench even observed that a physical court hearing experience not only benefits litigants but also helps young lawyers to learn.

The present petition is the first of its kind by litigants seeking a declaration of the right of access to justice through virtual courts (hybrid model) as a guaranteed Fundamental Right of each and every litigant of the country.

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