Thursday, June 1, 2023

Covid worsening, court should stop physical hearings, says senior lawyer’s letter to Delhi HC CJ

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New Delhi: Senior Advocate Rajiv Nayar wrote to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court yesterday, requesting him to have a re-look at the sustainability of continuing physical hearings in view of the incessant increase in the cases of COVID-19 in the national capital and surrounding areas. He argues in the letter:

“With a deep sense of anguish and pain, I say that the time has come to have a serious re-look at the viability of continuation of these physical hearings, especially keeping in mind the health and safety of the judges, my fellow lawyers, and the staff, whether employed by the court or by lawyers.”

Nayar said that judges are at the greatest risk as they have not been given an option (like lawyers) to opt for virtual hearing on days when they are designated to sit in a physical court. The senior lawyer said that he had written on August 17 and had made a request to continue with and expand virtual hearings in the Delhi High Court and subordinate courts, instead of physical hearings as was proposed at the time.

He said that when the proposal of the physical hearing was made, the number of cases was about 600 a day and it was thought that the situation might gradually be controlled. But it is not a secret now that by each passing day through the past few weeks the situation has been worsening.

“The said proposal has been implemented, effective September 1, 2020, where a handful of courts are functioning as ‘physical courts’ whereas others are functioning on the virtual medium, albeit on an ‘experimental’ basis,” he said. 

He also wrote:

“However, the situation has worsened in the past few weeks and there are no signs of improvement at least in the near future. I have learned that there is once again a shortage of beds in hospitals for COVID patients and hence there is an urgent need to maintain precautions.”

The letter said that Delhi and its surrounding areas are reporting COVID-19 cases in excess of 3,500 per day, which represents a six-fold increase from the middle of August 2020 when he had written the letter following which the High Court resumed graded physical hearings from September 1 for a period of 14 days on an experimental basis.

Nayar said he has also read media reports which confirm that a large number of persons working in the court, including judicial officers, have also tested positive for this deadly virus.

“This fact itself is sufficient to warrant a re-look at the decision to continue with physical hearings. The system of hearings through video conferencing, which has been put in place, is working wonders and now the time has come to expand the hearings to regular matters as well instead of en bloc adjournments to another date. The courts have adapted well to these systems and now are in a position to take up a large number of matters, if not all, through video conferencing,” he said.

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“In view of the changed scenario and an increasing number of cases each day, I would most earnestly request you to reflect upon the decision to continue with physical hearings as we have an efficient and effective mechanism for dealing with cases through the video conferencing. Once the situation improves, we all look forward to a full-scale resumption of our beloved High Court,” he added.

-India Legal Bureau

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