Almost after a year, the Competent Authority of the Supreme Court in a meeting with the executive committee of the Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record Association and Supreme Court Bar Association on Saturday has decided to start physical hearings in a hybrid manner soon.
In a statement released by the SCAORA, it said, “In the coordination committees meeting held today afternoon (13.02.2021) by the competent authority of SC with the EC of SCAORA and SCBA with regard to resumption of physical courts in a hybrid manner, it was clarified that, Hybrid manner would mean that the option to appear in the physical courts either physically or virtually will be at the option of the party (AOR/Advocate/Party in Person).”
“In other words, a matter will be heard in physical court, wherein one party can appear physically and the other party can appear virtually. All the Hon’ble courts will resume physically in the said hybrid manner, very soon. The requisite SOPs and other details will follow shortly,” said SCAORA.
The Apex Court of India has been functioning continuously via virtual courts/video conferencing since March last year after a countrywide lockdown was imposed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19, forced the legal system to go completely online for almost a year. The apex court and other courts across the country initially started hearing only urgent matters, but as time passed, the scope of virtual hearings expanded. As the vaccination drive began earlier this year, many courts, including the Delhi High Court, adopted a hybrid system —a mix of physical and virtual. In hybrid system, the court sits physically, while the counsel get a choice to either appear physically or through video-conferencing.
On February 8, the apex court allowed lawyers, advocates-on-record (AoRs) and their authorised clerks to have access to its library, bar lounge, canteens, registry and chambers. The move came after a letter was written by Senior Advocate Pradeep Rai to Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, urging him to allow access to the above premises.
The senior counsel wrote: “In view of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, it has been observed that during the last several months, advocates and members of the SCBA who do not have offices near Supreme Court or do not possess chambers in the Supreme Court compound are facing an undue hardship and difficulty in rendering their effective assistance to the Hon’ble Court as the access to the above referred areas within the Supreme Court compound have been denied.”
The apex court has now provided access to the registry to AoRs/authorised advocates of AoRs/registered clerks from February 8. It is allowing 100 people in three time slots–10 am-11.30 am, 11.30 am-1 pm and 2.30 pm-4 pm. As for the libraries, bar room and ladies bar lounge there is limited entry to members from 9.30 am-5.30 pm. However, locker areas have limited access.
The Senior Counsel Pradeep Rai, also wrote to the Chief Justice S.A. Bobde regarding resumption of physical hearings in an hybrid manner. In a video statement, Rai said a direction in this regard should be issued urgently to the registry as that will build the confidence of the lawyers in the system. This will also build the confidence of several litigants in our system, he said.
He said, “Many High Courts have already resumed physical hearings and some of the High Courts have adopted “hybrid systems” of hearing as well. The Supreme Court should also adopt the same with all precautions and protocols necessary to keep Covid-19 away.”