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Functioning of Courts via Video-Conference - "Technology here to stay"
In Re Guidelines For Court Functioning Through Video Conferencing During COVID 19 Pandamic
SUO MOTU WRIT (CIVIL) NO.5/2020
About/from the judgment:
The Supreme Court issued a series of directions in a matter taken up suo motu to look into guidelines for the functioning of the Court by video conferencing during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Court also took up the suggestions made by Senior Advocate Vikas Singh in a letter to decongest the courts through the long-term introduction of video conference hearings.
CJI SA Bobde observed these suggestions should be given substantive consideration. He added that the court needs changes in the way it functions and that these issues will be considered after lockdown is lifted.
The Bench went on to further observe that the COVID-19 outbreak demands social distancing. To ensure the continuous functioning of the Court, every stakeholder expected to coordinate. To preserve the rule of law and the Constitution, social distances guidelines have to be followed, the Court said, adding that all hearings in congregation must necessarily be suspended.
The Court observed that it is necessary to ensure that Court premises do not contribute to the spread of the virus, and went on to intimate that it wants to give legal protection to the measures that have been employed by courts.
To this end, the directions issued under Article 142 of the Constituton include the following:
- All measures that have been and shall be taken by this Court and by the High Courts, to reduce the need for the physical presence of all stakeholders within court premises and to secure the functioning of courts in consonance with social distancing guidelines and best public health practices shall be deemed to be lawful;
- The Supreme Court of India and all High Courts are authorized to adopt measures required to ensure the robust functioning of the judicial system through the use of video conferencing technologies;
- Consistent with the peculiarities of the judicial system in every state and the dynamically developing public health situation, every High Court is authorised to determine the modalities which are suitable to the temporary transition to the use of video conferencing technologies;
- 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.
- The District Courts in each State shall adopt the mode of Video Conferencing prescribed by the concerned High Court.
- The Court shall duly notify and make available the facilities for video conferencing for such litigants who do not have the means or access to video conferencing facilities.
- If necessary, in appropriate cases courts may appoint an amicus-curiae and make video conferencing facilities available to such an advocate.
- 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.
- In no case shall evidence be recorded without the mutual consent of both the parties by video conferencing. If it is necessary to record evidence in a Court room the presiding officer shall ensure that appropriate distance is maintained between any two individuals in the Court.
- The presiding officer shall have the power to restrict entry of persons into the court room 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 Court added that these directions have been issued to ensure that the Judiciary rises to face the unique challenge that has been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The orders will remain in place until further orders, the Bench added.
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