Supreme Court on Monday took up for hearing the suo moto case titled “In Re Guidelines for Court Functioning through Video Conferencing During Covid-19 Pandemic” and framed guidelines for the court to function via video conferencing during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The division bench comprising of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice L. Nageswara Rao observed that the functioning via video conferencing cannot be seen as a temporary issue as technology is here to stay. The bench said that High Courts have been given free charter to use any application that works in their jurisdiction and the Supreme Court is not making any rules on what should be used.
Former Supreme Court Bar Association President, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, had written to the Chief Justice of India seeking amendment to Supreme Court rules to provide video conferencing facility even after lockdown. CJI perused the letter on suggestions for working of courts during lockdown and said that suggestions by the former president needed to be given substantive consideration. The court needs changes in the way it functions and will be considered after lockdown is lifted. This needs a detailed deliberation.
Earlier the Supreme Court ordered that since the Covid 19 outbreak demands social distancing and to ensure proper functioning, every stakeholder is expected to cooperate. All hearing in congregation must necessarily be suspended. Technology has facilitated accessibility and connectivity and Indian Courts have been proactive in harnessing technology. It is necessary to ensure that court premises do not contribute to spread of virus. High courts were authorized to employ measures for social distancing through use of technology. Every High Court is authorized to determine modalities for use of videoconferencing. All courts have to maintain helpline for grievances regarding video feed and line during and immediately after the hearing. Courts have to make appropriate arrangements for litigants who cannot access videoconferencing facilities.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal appearing for the Central Government said that primary issue that arises is as to whether we are having the most efficient system which can be accessed by lawyers across the country. The video system had to be adjusted by an officer of the SC registry before he could connect. NIC must look into which is the most efficient and cheap application that can be used by all lawyers across the country.
Director General of NIC said that there are three things which is required for videoconferencing such as good broadband connection, good devices and the conduct of people since if one person is speaking others must put device on mute. It was further told to the Court that NIC will frame guidelines on how to conduct video conferencing calls and it would be sent to courts and lawyers.
The Supreme Court in exercise of power under article 142 of the constitution issued several guidelines, they are:-
- 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 Supreme Court deferred the hearing of the case for 4 weeks.
-India Legal Bureau