New Delhi: The Supreme Court could adopt a combination of physical and virtual proceedings to hear advocates once it reopens after a short summer recess in the second week of July, ThePrint has learnt.
The top court shuts down for a summer break on 19 June and reopens on 6 July.
A seven-judge committee constituted by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and headed by Justice N.V. Ramana held detailed discussions earlier this week on the possibility of restoring regular open court hearings, in view of pressing demands made by various advocates’ bodies.
One of the suggestions it discussed was related to holding both physical and virtual court proceedings, but no final decision was taken as the panel felt it was too early to do so. It will assemble again towards the end of June to decide on the future course of action.
CJI Bobde had constituted the panel after several associations of lawyers urged him to restore regular open court hearings. The Bar Council of India (BCI) complained against virtual courts, saying only privileged lawyers have access to digital hearings. The limited functioning of the court has also adversely affected young lawyers, it said.
The Supreme Court had suspended the entry of lawyers and litigants to the court premises a day before the Covid-19 lockdown began, and started holding digital proceedings of “urgent matters” only through video conferencing. Later, a judicial direction was given, asking high courts to operate similarly. Accordingly, high courts too issued administrative orders to subordinate judiciary to hear cases through video-conferencing.
Court staff’s well-being is priority
A member of the panel told ThePrint that fresh discussions will take place at the end of June. “Experts’ opinion will be sought and we will also have a look at the infection rate and Covid numbers. A full re-opening of court for physical hearing will depend on these factors,” said the judge, whoo did not wish to be named.
Another member of the panel said the biggest concern was the well-being of the court staff.
“Our staff is involved in public dealing, and is at risk of contracting the infection. Their work is different from the staff in a government office,” the second judge said.
“In courts, hundreds of persons come for filing their cases or to know the status of their matters. Several lawyers and their clerks interact with the staff daily. We have to give priority to them and their safety while taking any decision on resuming physical court hearings,” this judge said.
A third member of the panel added: “We will see how the situation evolves in the last week of June. The possibility of holding open courts along with virtual hearings was discussed at length. A lot of judges are in favour of this.”
A senior judge, who is not a member of the panel, said the court is already discussing the option of allowing physical appearance of advocates while adhering to social distancing norms. A notice issued on 2 June asked lawyers to give their consent to listing cases in open court. The panel is likely to consider the responses in its second round of deliberations.
Two more courts to go digital
Meanwhile, to allay fears of loss of work for young lawyers, the e-committee of the Supreme Court has proposed to start two more courts on the digital platform — chamber judge hearings and registrar hearings.
The proceedings before these two courts are usually technical and attended by junior lawyers. The nature of work before these courts includes curing defects in petitions, and passing certain administrative orders.
“No senior advocate appears before these two courts. It is the young lawyers who go for carrying out the technical changes, if required, in a petition. As of now these two courts have been suspended. Once we start them, the junior counsel will get a chance to appear and generate work,” said one of the committee members quoted above.