Supreme Court should migrate from Vidyo app: Survey
Vidyo app has proved to be problematic in practice and needs a complete overhaul and technology/ bandwidth issues needs to be immediately improved, the report dated August 29 suggested.Updated: Sep 23, 2020, 23:50 IST
A majority of Supreme Court lawyers who participated in a survey on the virtual court hearings did not favour the Vidyo app used by the apex court for video conference hearings and suggested that the top court should migrate from Vidyo to a different software application.
227 lawyers participated in the survey which was carried out online by 5 Supreme Court lawyers. Out of the 227, 13 lawyers were senior advocates and 133 were Advocates-on-Record (AoRs). To be sure, the number of participants who took the survey was limited when compared to the total number of practicing lawyers in Supreme Court. There are more than 2,700 AoRs in the Supreme Court while the SCBA has nearly 2,000 members on its voter’s list.
“An overwhelming majority of participants [155 of 218 (71.1 percent) who answered the question on Vidyo app] strongly felt that, owing to the technical issues with Vidyo, the Supreme Court should migrate to a different software application for conducting hearings through Video Conferencing,” the survey report said.
Vidyo app has proved to be problematic in practice and needs a complete overhaul and technology/ bandwidth issues needs to be immediately improved, the report dated August 29 suggested. The top court could consider exploring the possibility of developing a separate software application which integrates the best practices across various applications, it added.
The report said that advocates were routinely either unable to log in or were automatically logged out during court proceedings, probably due to bandwidth/ capacity issues with the App. They also faced difficulties in re-joining the hearing if they were logged out for some reason.
“Participants also complained that they were completely subject to the mercy of the Control Room and, on several occasions, were not unmuted in time, and hence were unable to present their arguments,” it said.
These problems were more acute in batch matters involving large number of parties, the report added.
The survey was conducted by 5 AoRs - Bhabna Das, D Abhinav Rao, Harsh Parashar, Krishna Dev J and RV Yogesh.
The apex court started hearing cases through video conferencing on March 23, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the national lockdown in view of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The hearing in Supreme Court is conducted through Vidyo app which can be downloaded on mobile phones and desktop. The platform is hosted on the servers of National Data Centre of National Informatics Centre. While the judges on the bench join the video conference from the residence of one of the judges, the lawyers join from their respective houses.
Another issue regarding video conference hearing which was highlighted by the survey report was that the lack of proper technical assistance from the court staff and a grievance redressal mechanism.
“There is absolutely no clarity on who is to be contacted in case of any technical issue in connecting via the link shared,” the report said.
A significant number of advocates experienced some stress owing to the link to the video conference being shared at the last minute, especially if they had to forward the link to a Senior Advocate / Arguing Counsel, it was pointed out.
Currently, links to the hearing are shared on Whatsapp groups specifically created each day for each court. It was suggested that the link for hearings for different virtual courts be published along with the cause list or sent to the concerned AoRs by automated e-mails sufficiently in advance.
“This can, in the long run, eliminate the time and resources consumed in creating WhatsApp groups for different virtual courts every day for this purpose, and also reduce the anxiety caused due to receipt of links at the last minute.”
94.7 percent of the participants (213 out of 225) also felt that the above issues can be best addressed by having separate designated officers for each virtual court, a demand which seems to have been accepted by the top court which on September 22 issued a circular giving contact details of dedicated court masters and court moderators for each court, who can be contacted for any assistance during video conference hearings.
The apex court has been frequently updating the standard operating procedure to address various issues faced by lawyers during video conference hearings. The court had on August 29 also invited sealed tenders for “a comprehensive plan for video conference hearings including hardware and support”.
The survey also covered other aspects like E-filing and listing of cases.
79.3 percent out of 213 advocates stated that they had used the E-filing Platform of the Supreme Court. 8 advocates (3.8 percent) stated that they had been unable to use it because of technical issues.
98 out of 166 (59 percent) advocates stated that they preferred E-filing to physical filing. However, a significant portion [41 percent] of advocates had faced some problems with the E-filing mechanism.
“By and large, advocates feel that the interface is not user-friendly, unnecessarily requires filling in of too many details at the advocates’ end, and that the support from the Registry is inadequate. Advocates are also anxious about the diary numbers not being generated immediately on E-filing, unlike a physical filing. This leads to uncertainty for the advocate and the client about whether the filing has been acknowledged by the registry and whether this would cause further delay in the process,” the report stated.
Only 4 participants actually expressed “satisfaction” with the existing E-filing system, it added.
68 out of 116 (58.6%) participants stated that they found the E-filing system of the Delhi High Court to be the most efficient.
The survey also pointed out shortcomings regarding listing of cases. 41.8 percent of the participants said they were able to get their matters listed only after filing a mentioning application indicating some urgency, the report said.
“There was a significant delay of 10 days or more in listing of the cases of a large proportion of participants i.e. 34 percent. On some occasions, this delay was caused despite filing a mentioning application, which has remained pending for several days,” it said.