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SOP for hybrid physical hearing: Supreme Court calls for meeting between Judges Committee, SCBA to resolve impasse

A bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice R. Subhash Reddy has noted in its order that the pandemic has thrown its own challenges and one is the functioning of the judiciary.

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The Supreme Court has asked the secretary-general to fix a meeting of the Supreme Court Bar Association with the Judges Committee to iron out issues arising out the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for hybrid physical hearing.

A bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice R. Subhash Reddy has noted in its order that the pandemic has thrown its own challenges and one is the functioning of the judiciary. The challenges have been met by both bar and bench. Though a step for the normalcy has to be taken, the question is only on what basis and how soon?

The court noted that the grievance made by Senior Counsel Vikas Singh, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, needs to be worked out. The bar president has submitted that some aspects of the SOP should have to be discussed. His principal grievance is that no consultation has been done with the bar before issuing the SOP, noted the court.

The court said another petition has been filed by the All India Jurists which support the SOP. Sensibility is to work out the middle path. The court noted that the present SOP provides a physical hybrid hearing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and a virtual hearing on Monday and Friday.

It said, “We are of the view that issues arising out of the SOP should be ironed out. We called upon secretary-general to fix a meeting of the bar with the judges’ committee.”

The matter would be heard on next Tuesday, March 23.

During the hearing today, SCBA President and Senior Advocate Vikas Singh vehemently argued against the operation of the present SOP issued by the Apex Court. He said the same was done without consulting the Bar.

Replying to the observation made by Justice Kaul that discussion was held before issuing the SOP, the bar president submitted that before issuing the SOP nobody has consulted us (SCBA), our view has not been considered.

“Today, I am seeking quashing of the present SOP and a new SOP has to be prepared in consultation with us. This is a closed-door for us. Please show us any minute you have prepared before issuing this SOP,” he asked.

Discussion regarding the physical opening of the court never ever happened with us. SOP was never placed before the committee of SCBA or SCAORA or even before the committee of the previous bar association, he said.

Justice Kaul said, “This kind of argument I can’t take into consideration…medical opinion can’t work, keep the institution closed etc. I was thinking to bring a solution to this.”

Vikas Singh: “We don’t want this SOP, we would like you to cancel this SOP and prepare a fresh one after consulting us.”

The court was hearing the petition filed by the SCBA to quash the SOP dated March 5, 2021, issued by the Supreme Court registry for a hybrid physical hearing. The association submitted that the SOP has been issued by the registry without consultation with the bar, even though the bar is an equal stakeholder in the dispensation of the justice delivery system and suggestions by the bar ought to have been taken into consideration.

“There is a general feeling in the bar that for the last few years, the registry has been issuing circulars without taking the bar into confidence even though the circulars issued directly affects the lawyers practicing before this Hon’ble Court,” said the plea.

It has been further submitted that in the meeting of the executive committee of the SCBA with the Chief Justice of India on March 1, 2021, regarding the physical/hybrid hearing, it was assured that the needful would be done by the registry expeditiously taking into consideration the suggestions given by the executive committee. However, the SOP has been issued unilaterally by the Registry.

The association has submitted that the president of the SCBA had written a letter dated March 2, 2021, regarding the resumption of physical hearing in the Supreme Court, however, the suggestions given have not been taken into consideration before issuing the SOP dated March 5, 2021, for hybrid physical hearing.

Moreover, even if before the resumption of the full physical hearing, a hybrid hearing was to be introduced as an interim measure, in that case, the hybrid hearing should have been for all days i.e. from Monday to Friday. In the SOP, there is no provision for a hybrid hearing for matters listed on Monday and Friday, i.e. miscellaneous days when primarily fresh matters are listed.

Further for around the last year, the Supreme Court is working through virtual hearing and there is no provision for oral mentioning in SOP dated March 5, 2021, and as a result, lawyers would still not be able to make oral mentioning which was a practice earlier before Covid-19 pandemic and when the courts were having a physical hearing.

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