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Coronavirus | Restrictions on court hearings lawful, says Supreme Court

NEW DELHI, 03/08/2019: A view of Supreme Court of India during a hearing on Ayodhya issue at Supreme Court , as the the mediation process in the Ayodhya temple-mosque case has failed to evolve any solution, the Supreme Court said today, declaring daily hearings from August 6 in the decades-old dispute, in New Delhi on Friday . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma / The Hindu

NEW DELHI, 03/08/2019: A view of Supreme Court of India during a hearing on Ayodhya issue at Supreme Court , as the the mediation process in the Ayodhya temple-mosque case has failed to evolve any solution, the Supreme Court said today, declaring daily hearings from August 6 in the decades-old dispute, in New Delhi on Friday . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma / The Hindu  

Apex court invokes special powers under Article 142, says steps in tune with ‘social distancing norms’.

The Supreme Court on Monday deemed all restrictions imposed on people from entering, attending or taking part in court hearings as lawful in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde said these restrictions were in tune with the social distancing norms and best public health practices advocated to contain the contagion.

Also read | Prime Minister hints at calibrated exit from lockdown

‘Matter of duty’

The court invoked its extraordinary Constitutional powers under Article 142 to step away from the convention of open court hearings. The open court system ensures transparency in administration of justice.

“Every individual and institution is expected to cooperate in the implementation of measures designed to reduce the transmission of the virus. The scaling down of conventional operations within the precincts of courts is a measure in that direction... it is necessary that courts at all levels respond to the call of social distancing and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of virus. This is not a matter of discretion but of duty,” a three-judge Bench led by the CJI observed in a seven-page order.

The court made it clear that public health takes precedence over conventions. Judiciary would have to improvise and continue to bank heavily on “videoconferencing technologies” in the wake of this “unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic”.

“Access to justice is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India. The challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have to be addressed while preserving the constitutional commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to justice to those who seek it... Indian courts have been proactive in embracing advancement in technology in judicial proceedings,” the order said.

Open court hearings would mean a congregation of large number of people. This would prove detrimental to the fight against the virus.

In the past few days, the SC and the High Courts had stopped open court hearings. Cases were heard via videoconferencing to ensure social distancing. The Supreme Court premises was completely shutdown.

Videoconferencing

The CJI Bench assembled on Monday to suo motu streamline the videoconferencing guidelines for courts. In a series of directions, the apex court allowed the High Courts to decide the modalities for the temporary transition to the use of videoconferencing technologies in their respective States. District courts in each State would adopt the mode of videoconferencing prescribed by the respective High Courts. Helplines would be set up to receive and rectify technical complaints.

The courts should make available videoconferencing facility for litigants who do not have it or appoint an amicus curiae.

Until appropriate rules are framed by the High Courts, videoconferencing should be employed for hearing arguments. “In no case shall evidence be recorded without the mutual consent of both the parties by videoconferencing. If it is necessary to record evidence in a courtroom, the presiding officer shall ensure that appropriate distance is maintained between any two individuals in the court,” the apex court order said.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 7:55:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-restrictions-on-court-hearings-lawful-says-supreme-court/article31274285.ece

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