Today, India’s Supreme Court wore a new look, with the number of lawyers, litigants and others visiting it significantly reduced following restrictions placed in the wake of a government advisory on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Here’s how Indian’s courts have changed the timetables and trying to deal with the virus that has taken lives in India so far and sent multiple countries into a lockdown.
Notification by Supreme court of India
The apex court has agreed to hear only cases requiring urgent hearing, and has limited casual visitors’ entry. The court’s public presentations were adjourned, and its canteens were shut down. Today, visitors were subject to thermal screening and were asked to fill in self-declaratory forms as well.
The court has ordered lawyers and other members of staff to vacate the sanitation premises after 6 p.m. Each single day. It has also announced that lawyers seeking adjournment could write to them requesting the same in their cases.
The Supreme Court implemented court hearings service over video conferencing. This plans to require separate rooms for lawyers to argue their cases from inside the premises over video-conferencing. The court will also launch an app to allow lawyers from their offices to participate in the proceedings.
Journalists will be allowed to screen these proceedings from Smart TVs built in the Supreme Court reporters’ press lounge. Justice DY Chandrachud, who heads the top court’s e-committee, leads the team that is looking into these proposals.
- Entry restriction: – Non-essential visits to the premises of the Supreme Court are discouraged and consequently, the entry of casual visitors is restricted until further orders are issued.All cafeterias, including the Departmental Canteen, are advised to stay closed until further orders are placed.The Supreme Court’s Guided Tour will remain suspended and the Museum of the Supreme Court will remain closed to tourists, both until further orders are given.
- Timings of courts area: – All common areas including toilets, halls, staircases and so on shall be sanitized after 6 p.m. The stakeholders are therefore asked to vacate their respective offices / institutions and ideally leave the premises by 5.30 p.m.
- Body check-up: – All interested parties who may have travel history to the affected areas / countries, as may be informed from time to time by the Government(s), or who may have symptoms of fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose or trouble breathing, are advised to refrain from currently visiting the premises of the Supreme Court.
- Process of sensitisation before going to premises: – All entrants to the premises of the Supreme Court may be required to undergo thermal screening and persons identified at high body temperature may be denied entry and may, from time to time, be subject to the SOP prescribed by the Government of India, the Ministry of Health; in this regard, all concerned should note that the Delhi NCT Government has already invoked the applicable SOPs.
- Restricted entry into high security zones: – Entry into the High Security Zone will be further governed by suspending Learned Advocates entry on the basis of their proximity cards, before further orders are issued.
- Safety of officers: – Advocates with offices / chambers in the different Lawyers Chamber Blocks located in the Supreme Court may be advised against attending their respective offices / chambers, as they would have to be closed due to lack of cleaning and preservation services, in view of the steps taken pursuant to the notification from the Government, as mentioned above.
- Video conferencing: – The ‘Vidyo’ app can be downloaded to a personal desktop / laptop / mobile computer for video conferencing purposes by clicking on the connection available for download on http:/ecourtvc.nic.in. You can also download the “Vidyo” program for Android phone from the Google Play Store and for iOS phone from the Apple Store. The AOR / Party-in-Person can, for assistance in this regard, refer to the Standard Operating Procedure ( SOP) uploaded to the Supreme Court website, i.e. www.sci.gov.in.
- In all cases taken on board, an intimation regarding the Hon’ble Bench’s sitting time and estimated hearing date of their case(s) shall be sent on the Mobile Number and e-mail to the AOR / Party-in-Person concerned, as stated in the application. For such hearing, the AOR / Party-in-Person concerned would also be provided with a one-time link, which would facilitate their participation in the hearing of the case as and when the Hon’ble Bench conducts the same.
- Filling of e-petition: – The AOR / Party-in-Person is first expected to file the petition / Misc for all matters requiring serious urgency. Application preferably through the e-filing mode on the SC Website. The AOR / Party-in-Person is then allowed to file separately the signed and checked application containing a synopsis of severe urgency not exceeding one page, at email@example.com, as stated in paragraph, after completion of all formalities according to the rules regulating such petition / misc. Application. The Circular is dated 23.03.2020.
- Video conferencing: – To stop the difficulty faced by the unexpected linking problem of video conferencing ‘Vidyo,’ as described in paragraph IV. For that Circular dated 23.03.2020, the AOR / Party-in-Person is hereby requested to list, if any, their alternative contact information for Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, along with other information in their application for reference, as set out in paragraph. 3 In the Circular, on 23.03.2020.
Since the prevailing situation requires people to be discouraged from undertaking any type of journey / travel, SC Registry takes all necessary steps to conduct the above-mentioned hearings via remote VC links, and it is therefore recommended that AORs / Parties-in-Persons refrain from exercising the option of participating in the hearing through the VC link facility available at the premises of the SC.
The latest order released by NCDRC for functioning of NCDRC dated 3rd May, 2020 states: –
- Continuation of office: – The Deputy Secretary/ Deputy Registrar rank officer and above shall continue to regularly attend the office.
- Attendance: – Commission officers shall resume work from the office subject to a 33 percent overall limit.
- The NCDRC for COVID-19 management, annexed to Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-1(A), released on 1 May 2020, must be scrupulously pursued by all concerned and enforced.
- Availability of materials: – To meet the immediate requirement, the tools, supplies, consumables, etc. are purchased by the office from local vendors/authorized vendors, as the case may be, for the purpose of (c) above.
- ArogyaSetu: – All officers must make compulsory use of the ArogyaSetu App in their mobile phones.
- Completion of work: –The court masters will continue to attend to complete their work pending and also to help the registry.
- Who can attend office: – Officials who remain in the containment zones are exempt from attending the office.
Many courts and major tribunals in the country soon adapted to the new standard and switched to video hearings in the first quarter of the lockdown the Hon’ble National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission [“NCDRC”] was slightly slower to adapt and video hearings only started on 15 June 2020. Nevertheless, all the notices issued during the lockdown on the NCDRC website suggest that litigants / advisors were allowed to discuss urgent matters in the President’s residential ocean right before the video hearings were initiated.
STEPS TAKEN BY Securities Appellate Tribunal DURING COVID -19
The Securities Appellate Tribunal also confined itself to hearing only urgent cases and prohibited the admission of only attorneys, chartered accountants and one litigant representative into the courtroom.
Attorneys were required to write to tribunal registry before 9:30 a.m. for adjournments. Every day and then, on the same day, it’ll be placed before the bench. The lawyers have been advised that in order to request an adjournment they do not need to enter the court premises. The tribunal also changed its timetables to 11:30 a.m. Until 4:30 pm. And told workers to report by 11:30 a.m. Rather than the normal 9:30 am To avoid traffic rush-hour.
STEPS TAKEN BY HIGH COURT DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
- Bombay High Court: – The Bombay High Court agreed to hear only urgent cases and that order also includes its benches in Nagpur, Aurangabad and Goa.
The court also asked the bar to cooperate in limiting entry only to those whose presence is mandatory for official purposes. Lawyers have been asked to notify the registry if their cases need to be removed as a matter of urgency from the court list of the day and all other cases will receive an automatic adjournment.
The high court has also ordered the Maharashtra district courts not to rely on the parties’ personal presence unless it is absolutely necessary.
This has also asked district courts not to pass any adverse orders while a party is currently absent in court. It is necessary to prevent needless crowding of lock-ups in court and courts do not request the parties’ personal presence unless it is unavoidable.
The registry of the High Court will draw up the cases that need urgent listing, and the court will take up only those cases on an emerging basis.
The high court has also recommended that district courts take up only those cases that require bail. The courts have also been directed to dispose of the obligation of convicts’ personal appearance and to do so over video conferencing when it is completely necessary.
3. Other High Courts: – The Calcutta High Court and its subordinate tribunals declared they would hear urgent cases from March 17 only to avoid mass meetings. This drastic move comes with the publication of more case studies. On 12 March, the Registrar of the Kerala High Court demanded that all district judges take into account urgent cases.
Other high courts may take the matter for immediate hearing. For instance, both Patna’s High Court and Gauhati’s High Court provided notices regarding the interim list of cases. The Gauhati High Court does not apply to written citizenship petitions, but only stresses ‘urgent matters.’ There is no mention in its notification of a list of bail cases or habeas corpus petitions that are urgently needed because they are deprived of liberty. The Patna High Court stresses the preferred choice of bail applications, but the sum of such matters is arbitrarily limited to 25 requests per day.It is not clear whether that amount was reached after the court assessed the total number of bail applications. Jurists are well aware that urgent matters often lead to high profile cases and senior counsel. It can postpone cases that may be urgent for the common council and common litigant for some purposes.
Need is the mother of invention – once Covid-19 is contained, the judiciary will be given an opportunity to reform the justice system to better serve a desperately needing public.The legislative basis for the modernisation of the courts should start boldly and immediately.First and foremost, the number of politicians and innovators discussing law and justice problems needs to be significantly increased.The crisis over coronavirus has encouraged courts around the world to find innovative ways to deliver justice. Courts and their customers need to ‘consider the moment’We desperately need the electronic courts to provide a set of new laws and rules of procedure.We need to build more knowledge and understanding, and we also need to build forums and spaces that encourage and allow changers to come together, dialog and collaborate in order to develop successful solutions.We need to use technology and social media to build a citizens’ movement by equipping people with the information, money, and support to bring pressure to reform the system.The rapidly evolving “legal tech” area allows us to use emerging technologies such as digitization, process automation, data and analytics, AI to re-imagine entirely how a 21st century, the citizen-cantered legal system will operate.
This Article is Written by Ayush Garg, 2nd Year Student of Gujarat National Law University.