SC directs courts to adopt video conferencing for hearing cases

The Supreme Court Monday directed district courts across the country to adopt video-conferencing prescribed by the concerned high Court for adjudicating the cases in view of COVID-19 pandemic.

“The concerned courts shall maintain a helpline to ensure that any complaint in regard to the quality or audibility of feed shall be communicated during the proceeding or immediately after its conclusion failing which no grievance in regard to it shall be entertained thereafter,”  a bench headed by Chief Justice Bobde said.

The bench directed that courts shall duly notify and make available the facilities for video-conferencing for such litigants who do not have the means or access to such facilities.

“If necessary, in appropriate cases courts may appoint an amicus-curiae and make video conferencing facilities available to such an advocate,” it said, adding, “Until appropriate rules are framed by the high courts, video conferencing shall be mainly employed for hearing arguments whether at the trial stage or at the appellate stage.”

The apex court also made it clear that in “no case shall evidence be recorded without the mutual consent of both the parties by video-conferencing”.

The bench said if it is necessary to record evidence in a courtroom, the presiding officer shall ensure that appropriate distance is maintained between any two individuals in the court.

It directed that the presiding officer shall have the power to restrict entry of persons into the courtroom or the points from which the arguments are addressed by the advocates.

“No presiding officer shall prevent the entry of a party to the case unless such party is suffering from any infectious illness. However, where the number of litigants are many the presiding officer shall have the power to restrict the numbers.

“The presiding officer shall in his discretion adjourn the proceedings where it is not possible to restrict the number,” the bench said.

While making it clear that “these directions shall operate until further orders”, the top court said that these directives have been issued in “furtherance of the commitment to the delivery of justice.”

“Access to justice is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India,” the bench said.

“The challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have to be addressed while preserving the constitutional commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to justice to those who seek it,” the bench said, adding, “Court hearings in congregation must necessarily become an exception during this period.”

It said that cooperation of all the concerned stakeholders, like judges, lawyers and litigants, is indispensable in successful implementation of these directions to ensure that the judiciary rises to face the unique challenge presented by the outbreak of COVID-19.

It said every individual and institution is expected to cooperate in the implementation of measures designed to reduce the transmission of coronavirus and the scaling down of conventional operations within the precincts of courts is a measure in that direction.

The bench said that modern technology has enabled courts to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the administration of justice and Indian courts have been “proactive in embracing advancement in technology in judicial proceedings”.

A slew of directions were passed by the bench which has taken suo motu (on its own) cognizance of a letter written by senior advocate and former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Vikas Singh, who has suggested measures for use of technology for conducting hearings in the courts.