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File image of the Supreme Court of India | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Advocate-On-Record Association (SCAORA) Tuesday requested Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde to resume physical court hearings from July onwards in order to overcome difficulties in virtual hearings due to technical glitches.

The apex court had, on 23 May, resorted to virtual hearings via video conferencing to adapt to social distancing measures and prevent spread of Covid infection. The court has been completely shut since then.

In a letter addressed to the CJI, the lawyers’ body also suggested preventive measures to check the spread of Covid-19 within the court premises.

SCAORA expressed concern over the staggered working of courts for the past three months which, it said, has left several lawyers in severe financial crisis. The body said many advocates have informed about “loss of livelihood” to its executive committee.

“Unless the normal functioning of courts is resumed, the said concern will not abate,” read the letter, signed by SCAORA president Shivaji Jadhav.

SCAORA comprises of lawyers who are advocates-on-record (AOR) in the Supreme Court. An AOR is authorised to file cases and submit all supporting documents in the apex court. A lawyer has to clear a written exam to become an AOR.


Also read: No paper files, all case records on laptops — Supreme Court holds first paperless proceedings

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Video conference hearings suffer from technical glitches

SCAORA’s letter said that its members have faced severe difficulties during video conference hearings due to technical problems. Nearly 95 per cent of its members were not comfortable with virtual court hearings, said the body.

“The common feedback seems to be that the lawyers are unable to present their cases effectively in the virtual medium and the same is acting as a major deterrent for lawyers to consent for such virtual hearings,” the letter read.

Not all lawyers are given a chance to speak and sometimes their mics are put on mute by the coordinator. In such a scenario, the body said, cases can also get heard in the absence of a lawyer.

Advocates are also not well-equipped with the knowledge on use of computers, the body added.

Courts can sit in two shifts, face shields for lawyers

In the letter to the CJI, SCAORA has suggested measures that should be imposed to protect the lives of both lawyers and litigants.

It has said that cases can be heard in two shifts — before and after lunch. Each lawyer should be asked to compulsorily leave the courtroom after her or his hearing is over.

The body also said it should be mandatory for all to sanitise their hands before entering the courtroom. Lawyers would have to wear masks while they are inside the courtroom and those arguing should put on a face shield.

Their proposal also includes restricting the number of lawyers inside a courtroom. SCAORA has said that lawyers of only 10 cases should be present inside the courtroom at any given time. Judges can divide the listed cases into batches, with each batch having not more than 10 cases.

“The existing distance between the lawyers and judges should be increased. The quality and working of mics can be improved so that lawyers can be heard even from a distance,” the letter added.

The library and canteen at the top court should also remain closed as a precautionary measure.


Also read: Virtual courts won’t displace open hearings, but tech has potential: Justice Chandrachud


 

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