Supreme Court issues SOP for physical hearing of cases from Sept 1

Published on Aug 29, 2021 10:40 PM IST

The option of physical hearing is being provided only for final hearing or regular matters on non-miscellaneous days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) while the matters listed on miscellaneous days (Mondays and Fridays) will strictly be through the videoconferencing app Vidyo.

In August last year, a committee of seven senior most judges of the Supreme Court had deliberated on the issue of resuming physical courts and had recommended to start limited physical hearing of cases. (HT PHOTO.)
In August last year, a committee of seven senior most judges of the Supreme Court had deliberated on the issue of resuming physical courts and had recommended to start limited physical hearing of cases. (HT PHOTO.)
ByAbraham Thomas

The Supreme Court will be resuming physical hearing of cases on three days in a week beginning September 1; nearly 17 months after the Courts shut down in March 2020 and took up cases through a videoconferencing platform. This facility is optional and can be availed by lawyers/litigants in addition to the choice of online hearing already existing.

The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to be followed in this regard was released by the Supreme Court on Sunday. The circular released by Supreme Court Secretary-General said, “With a view to gradually facilitate resumption of physical hearing, the final hearing/regular matters listed on non-miscellaneous days may be heard in the physical mode (with hybrid option), as may be decided by the Hon’ble Bench, considering the number of parties in a matter as well as the limited capacity of the Court rooms. Further, any other matter may be heard in physical mode on such days, if Hon’ble Bench directs likewise.”

The option of physical hearing is being provided only for final hearing or regular matters on non-miscellaneous days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) while the matters listed on miscellaneous days (Mondays and Fridays) will strictly be through the videoconferencing app Vidyo.

It was on March 6 this year; the top court issued a circular introducing hybrid hearing as a pilot scheme to introduce physical hearing of regular cases or old matters on an experimental basis. Later, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) took objection to the SOP issued by the Court then and complained of lack of adequate consultation. The pilot scheme was even challenged by the SCBA before the top court where the judges tried ironing out the differences but failed. With the onset of the second wave of the pandemic, the circular was put to rest.

Now with the vaccination of lawyers progressing at a steady pace and both SCBA and the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA), the two main associations of lawyers practicing at the Supreme Court coming forward with demands to resume physical hearing of cases, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana agreed to consider the issue and held discussions with the two bar associations this month.

The physical hearing, at present, has been restricted to 20 persons at a given time and in the event, in a case, there are more than 20 persons opting for physical hearing, the same shall invariably be listed for hearing through videoconferencing mode. The discretion of taking up the matter through physical or offline mode has been left to the choice of the lawyer and discretion of the bench hearing the matter, the circular specified.

In keeping with the COVID-19 protocol, the lawyers who intend to appear for physical hearing have to intimate the Registry of the Supreme Court in advance and follow all safeguards of wearing masks, frequent use of hand sanitizers, and maintain physical distancing once they enter the high security zone of the Supreme Court. Entry to lawyers/litigants will be through Special Entry passes issued by the Court after thermal check and other scanning devices to check infection status.

The SOP stated, “Once hearing through physical mode is opted by the advocate-on-record/litigant appearing in person, hearing through video/tele-conferencing mode to the party concerned will not be facilitated.”

In August last year, a committee of seven senior most judges of the Supreme Court had deliberated on the issue of resuming physical courts and had recommended to start limited physical hearing of cases. The Committee held wide-ranging consultations with the lawyer bodies who consented for such an arrangement.

Following this, the Supreme Court installed glass partitions for judges and placed multiple sets of chairs spaced at a distance to facilitate physical appearance of lawyers. However, when the Court approached lawyers for consent, only a handful agreed following which the plan was dropped. It was only revived in March this year with the issuance of the hybrid hearing notification.

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