Supreme Court holds first ‘virtual’ Constitution Bench hearing
The Supreme Court held its first Constitution bench sitting through videoconferencing on Tuesday. This is the first time since March 5 the five judges sat together in a single court hall ever since the lockdown forced the apex court to stop physical court hearings and begin hearing cases through videoconferencing from March 25 this year.
A bench of justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose appeared wearing masks and maintaining nearly two-feet distance between them on the bench. The first case that was heard by the five-judge bench was a legal tussle on whether Centre or states have the power to provide reservation to in-service candidates in post-graduate medical degree courses. The plea was brought up by Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association.
Opening the argument, senior advocate Arvind Datar exchanged the extensive compilation of his arguments including cases to be referred through Google drive with all lawyers. One of the lawyers, senior advocate Vikas Singh appearing for Medical Council of India (MCI) complained about being unable to access Google Drive. He objected to Datar referring to the same, the first hiccup encountered by the Court in the virtual proceeding. The problem was sorted as court asked Datar to give case law citations.
As the hearing proceeded, Datar was inaudible to the Court. Justice Shah commented in a lighter vein, “Don’t keep social distancing with your mike.” Datar heard ‘mike’ as “wife”, leaving the bench in splits.
The bench reserved judgment in the case, allowing parties to submit their written submissions in the case by July 20.
Other matters listed before the Constitution Bench could not be taken up due to lack of time.
The day also witnessed veteran jurist and the senior among the bar Fali S Nariman make maiden appearance through videoconferencing before a three-judge bench headed by CJI SA Bobde. Seeing him, CJI remarked, “So happy to see you Mr Nariman. For the first time you are appearing through videoconferencing.”
The Supreme Court began hearing of urgent cases through video conferencing app called VIDYO in March after the imposition of lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. The volume of cases taken up on a daily basis has been less in the past three months. Beginning this week, the Supreme Court has listed regular matters and Constitution Bench matters for hearing as well. With the pandemic showing no signs of let up, there is uncertainty over when physical court hearings can resume. Till such time, virtual mode may be the only way left for courts to keep functioning.