Hon’ble SC of India has issued guidelines to facilitate hearing of cases through video conferencing. The lockdown announced in the wake of COVID 19 has necessitated this step. While speaking on the suggestions made by a Senior Advocate, the court observed that the crowd must be avoided in court premises. It is necessary to practice social distancing. It is our duty and not discretion.
The court has opined that in a democratic country like India, it is incumbent to provide access to justice and to uphold the legal principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution. At the same time, it is vital to observe the advisories issued by health organizations and maintain social distance. Therefore, this is the time to make the most of the technology. The court proceedings will be held through video conferencing. Virtual courts will function as physical courts.
During the lockdown, the Supreme Court and High Courts are already using the technology of Video Conferencing and other courts must follow. Court premises should not become a reason for the spread of the virus.
The specific guidelines issued are:
- All measures taken by the courts to reduce the physical presence in the court premises shall be deemed lawful.
- The judicial system will function through video conferencing. The proceedings require establishing a connection between the lawyers of both the parties and the litigants. It will be used mainly for hearing arguments until rules are made. Evidence will be recorded only with mutual consent of both the parties.
- Every High Court can make rules for the use of this technology depending upon the health situation in the state. Districts courts will make rules as directed by the concerned High Court.
- High Court is free to use any appropriate technology for virtual functioning of courts. The higher court has not specified any particular technology.
- A helpline number shall be maintained by courts for complaint regarding the court hearing during proceedings through videoconferencing. The complaint is filed during the proceedings or immediately afterwards.
- If evidence is to be recorded in a courtroom, the Presiding Officer shall ensure that proper distance is maintained between two individuals.
- The presiding officer shall have the power to restrict the entry of persons in the courtroom. Proceedings can be adjourned if entry cannot be restricted
- The court can assist the lawyers in availing this facility. The Amicus Curie (advocates appointed as friends of the court) will ensure that the lawyers have the supporting infrastructural system.
The court has directed the NIC- National Informatics center to ensure smooth conduct of such proceedings. The court opines that the use of this technology should be made in the usual way of conducting court proceedings in future.
There is uncertainty about the duration of the lockdown. Therefore, appropriate steps will be taken in due course of time for the functioning of courts.
Judiciary is trying to maintain a balance between the aspirations of those seeking justice and the prevailing medical situation.