Physical hearings in top court likely next week
The move comes almost five months after the court stopped physical hearings on account of the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the Coronavirus disease, and almost two -and-half months after the lockdown was removed, although some restrictions continue.Updated: Aug 13, 2020 14:11 IST
The Supreme Court may start holding physical hearings in at least two or three of its 15 courts as early as next week, as demanded by the Bar association, even as the top court wants additional safety measures before it starts doing so.
The move comes almost five months after the court stopped physical hearings on account of the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the Coronavirus disease, and almost two -and-half months after the lockdown was removed, although some restrictions continue.
A seven-judge committee evaluating the court’s opening told leaders of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) on Tuesday that at least three courts may start holding physical hearings on a trial basis. This will be in addition to the virtual court hearings already in place, they said.
Members of the bar are keen on an opening, even a phased one, from next week, but a final word on the matter is awaited: the judges committee is expected to submit its report to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in a day or two for passing necessary directions.
The meeting between the seven-judge committee and the bar leaders was held on Tuesday through videoconferencing. The lawyers were represented by SCBA President Dushyant Dave and SCAORA President Shivaji Jadhav. In a statement issued on Wednesday, SCBA President Dave wrote about the meeting. “We suggested that for the time being only four or five Courts may restart physically while continuing and expanding/improving the virtual courts hearings.”
Speaking to HT, SCAORA President and senior advocate Shivaji Jadhav said: “The committee presided by Justice NV Ramana is seriously considering starting at least two-three physical courts from the next week and in the meantime, the registry has been asked to take necessary steps to prepare the courts for physical functioning.” The registry is expected to put up glass partition between the judges and lawyers and install other facilities to sanitize entry points, he added.
Since the national lockdown began on March 25, the top court has been shut but limited hearing of urgent cases is taking place through videoconferencing platform VIDYO. Over a period of time, more courts have become functional through videoconferencing. The SC Registry even provides videoconferencing Rooms for lawyers at the new Supreme Court block adjacent to the old court complex. This facility can be availed by lawyers and litigants even at the seven district courts in the Capital.
Both the Delhi high court and district courts in the Capital are currently holding hearings through videoconferencing and it is expected that they will follow the Supreme Court’s lead when it comes to restarting physical hearings.
The seven judges on the committee are : Justice Ramana, justices Arun Mishra, RF Nariman, UU Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and LN Rao. The committee shared its concerns with the bar leaders informing them about the medical advice received by them from experts who said physical court hearings could wait for another two weeks.
Speaking to HT, Dave said consistency is needed: “ How can the experts who are advising the government to lift the lockdown tell the Supreme Court to remain closed. It is unfortunate that justice is suffering, lawyers and their clerks are suffering.”
Both Dave and Jadhav were of the view that all necessary measures must be taken to ensure health and well-being of the judges, registry staff and lawyers but that physical court hearing should begin from August 18.
Two weeks ago, the seven-judge committee held its first meeting with SCBA and SCAORA to study the feasibility of opening courts. This followed representations received from lawyer bodies. Meanwhile, a section of lawyers have shot off a representation to SCBA and SCAORA openly dissenting with the idea of opening courts. This representation, signed by 24 lawyers has insisted on continuation of virtual court hearings.
“Even If physical court hearings begin, only those matters will be listed which are old, regular matters from the Final Hearing List published before the lockdown,” Jadhav said.
If the courts reopen for physical hearing, it will come against the backdrop of a general improvement of the Covid-19 situation in Delhi, with more tests, a lower positivity rate, and fewer people seeking hospitalisation.