New Delhi: “Overwhelming to be back.” “First day made it better.” “Ah to be back.” “Hallowed ground.”
Corridors of the Supreme Court came back to life Thursday with lawyers clicking selfies, photographing each other and huddling around as they caught up on life during Covid while sipping their coffee.
Thursday, 21 October, is when the Supreme Court opened its doors for physical hearings, nearly one and a half years after it had switched to the online mode amid the Covid pandemic. Physical hearings, though, will take place only twice a week for now.
Although the pandemic dominated most conversations, all agreed it was good to be back at court. An emotional Justice D.Y. Chandrachud told the lawyers who appeared before him, “We are so happy to see you back. You cannot imagine how lonely it is to see the screens in the morning.”
Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, during a hearing related to blockades due to farmers’ protest, urged the lawyers not to ensue in heated altercations and argue with a smiling face.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who was appearing for the farmers’ union, could not hide his excitement and told the bench that he was so eager to meet his colleagues that he reached much before the courts convened at 10.30 am.
Over the past 18 months, meanwhile, courtrooms were upgraded and redesigned to follow the safety protocols. Glass barriers were installed to partition the dais where judges are seated and the arguing area meant for lawyers.
The Supreme Court had adopted online mode of hearing in March 2020 due to Covid. Later, a hybrid mode was adopted, extending liberty to the lawyers to opt for either physical or virtual hearings. However, a majority of lawyers had preferred virtual appearances.
On the two days when physical hearings will be held, virtual hearings too will be allowed. The order was modified Friday evening after some senior advocates requested Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana to permit virtual hearings as well. A new circular issued Friday also says that if the number of counsel is more than the working capacity of a courtroom then virtual hearing may be permitted.
‘Wonderful to be back on hallowed ground’
However, lawyers who turned up Thursday were happy to “have life back to normal.”
Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi posted his picture with a lawyer on his Facebook page and captioned it as “With the ITEM NUMBER ONE of the Supreme Court….First day made better,”.
“One can feel the punch of law only in physical hearings. Be it the sheer vitality of the court’s corridors or the exertion of real court hearings, the zing and zip of the real world carries the authentic power and intensity that gives law and litigation its glamour and charm,” Lekhi told ThePrint.
With over 25 years of experience, Lekhi was as thrilled to be back in the corridors as Aditya Giri, who enrolled as a lawyer in 2017.
Giri quoted Shakespeare to express his feelings: “And this one is our life, exempt from public haunt, Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
While virtual hearings for most had been convenient, advocate Rohini Musa said she missed appearing in court, the interaction with judges, and her peers. “I missed the camaraderie among my peers, the relaxed moments and laughs over a cup of coffee. It’s wonderful to be back on hallowed ground,” she told ThePrint.
Advocate Pallavi Pratap was overwhelmed to be back. In her Instagram post she wrote: “It was overwhelming to be back in Court after 1.5 years for physical hearing! It was so nice to be back in the chamber, to just have that feeling, to see familiar faces, to have a nice cup of coffee and relax after your matter is done. I am happy to have life back in normal.”
Lawyer Parth Yaduvanshi posted about the new norm in courts for now. “From adjusting masks to holding briefs: Take a look at how was the first day of physical hearings at the Supreme Court.”