THE BEGINNING OF A NEW AGE: VIRTUAL COURT HEARINGS: THE INDIAN CONTEXT

INTRODUCTION

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit all the countries hard but as far as the legal system is concerned, it has shown us how the coming times and the future shall be and also how things in the ‘new normal’ would be.

But there is always a Silver lining in these tough times which is the Virtual Court Hearings which has ensured that Justice isn’t delayed for the one’s who seek it inspite of these tough times as Justice delayed is Justice denied.

The lockdown has affected the functioning of courts across the globe, but the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has done much better than the top courts in countries like the UK, the US, Singapore and Canada.

The Apex Court began the hearing of urgent matters virtually till May 1st and heard them for 22 days via video conferencing in March after the imposition of lockdown in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

ABOUT VIRTUAL HEARINGS

Virtual hearings are court hearings conducted by audio-visual means, where cases are progressed without the need for participants to attend the Court in person. It also shows how the distance becomes immaterial when one has to appear before the court to argue the case.

FOR THE FIRST TIME

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held its first Constitutional bench sitting and this is the first time since March 5 that five judges sat together in a single court hall ever since the lockdown forced the apex court to stop physical court hearings and begin hearing cases through videoconferencing from March 25 this year.

It was for the first time on Tuesday, the 14th July, 2020 that a Constitutional Bench (comprising five judges) held a virtual hearing. A bench of justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose appeared wearing masks and maintaining nearly two-feet distance between them on the bench.

The first case that was heard by the five-judge bench was a legal tussle on whether Centre or States have the power to provide reservation to in-service candidates in post-graduate medical degree courses. The plea was brought up by Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association.

Opening the argument, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar exchanged the extensive compilation of his arguments including cases to be referred through Google drive with all Lawyers. One of the Lawyers, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh appearing for Medical Council of India (MCI) complained about being unable to access Google Drive.

He objected to Datar referring to the same, the first hiccup encountered by the Court in the virtual proceeding. The problem was sorted as Hon’ble court asked Senior Advocate Arvind Datar to give case law citations.

As the virtual hearing proceeded the Senior Advocate Arvind Datar was inaudible to the Hon’ble Court. Hon’ble Justice MR Shah commented in a lighter vein that, “Don’t keep social distancing with your mike.” Datar heard ‘mike’ as “wife”, leaving the bench in splits.

SUCCESS STORY: DATA THAT MATTERS

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India shared the ‘success story’ of virtual court proceedings. At the beginning of June as many as 2,893 lawyers appeared in the hearings via video-conferencing, it said in the data release.

According to the data, 538 matters were taken up by the SC during the lockdown period, besides 297 connected cases. Judgment was delivered in 57 matters. Besides, 49 special leave petitions, 92 writ petitions, 138 review petitions and 58 pleas for interim relief were also taken up.

HOW THE COURTS FARED AND PERFORMED?

India has fared the best as per the above data as many other countries have been using the virtual system but their top courts that have lagged way behind in the hearing or disposal of cases.

It conducted proceedings via video-conferencing from March 25 as it has suspended the entry of lawyers and other staff into its premises and also the apex court decided to explore the feasibility of ‘physical appearance’ of advocates in real courtroom hearings after strictly adhering to the guidelines of the COVID-19 triggered lockdown and resorting to virtual hearings since March 25.

Data available on other judicial websites indicate that in the nations hit hard by the pandemic like the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, China, Canada, Australia etc., The organs of that state which carried out the administration of justice are mostly relying on the virtual court methodologies and online case management.

CONCLUSION

Hence after going through the above facts and circumstances it’s certainly a grand success yet there is always room and scope for improvement.

WEBSITES REFERRED:-

1)https://www.supremecourt.vic.gov.au/law-and-practice/virtual-hearings/virtual-hearings-glossary

2)https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/may/04/virtual-hearing-indias-apex-court-way-ahead-than-many-counterparts-2138843.amp

3)https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2020/03/30/marketing-amidst-a-pandemic/

4)https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.hindustantimes.com/india-news/supreme-court-holds-first-virtual-constitution-bench-hearing/story-6OIJDbbzpliujLFjz1z3mI_amp.html

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