The Supreme Court on Monday decided to further restrict its functioning on account of the COVID-19 scare and resort to the digital mode to maintain social distancing and prevent spread of infection. The court premises would be completely shutdown.
In a meeting among judges, lawyers and the government through the Solicitor General held on Monday, it was decided that only extremely urgent cases would be taken up by a Bench(es) through a video app.
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The Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 to lift the limitation period for all cases across tribunals and courts in the country until further notice.
“To obviate difficulties and to ensure that lawyers/litigants do not have to come physically to file proceedings in respective courts/tribunals across the country, including this court, it is hereby ordered that a period of limitation in all proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the general law or special laws, whether condonable or not, shall stand extended with effect from March 15 till further orders,” the apex court said after taking suo motu cognisance.
A Bench led by Chief Justice Bobde heard a few cases via videoconferencing on Monday. A giant screen, instead of the usual crowd of lawyers and litigants, greeted Chief Justice Bobde and his fellow judges as they entered the courtroom. The screen, placed in front of the judges’ dais, was connected to the Old Court Masters’ Room at another end of the Supreme Court premises. This room was fitted with microphones and screens for lawyers to present their cases to the CJI Bench via videoconferencing.
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The meeting on Monday was held by Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose and attended by Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave and secretary Ashok Arora, Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association secretary Joseph Aristotle S. and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
A circular issued by the Supreme Court late on Monday explained that the cases would be heard through an app called ‘Vidyo’.
It said a one-page synopsis of these cases can be sent to the apex court registry via an email id - email@example.com. The registry would then forward the mail to the judges on the slotted Bench. Once the case is approved for urgent hearing, it would be listed for the next day. The lawyer concerned would be mailed a video link and he or she can use it to present his case via videoconferencing at an allotted time. The link would lapse automatically by default shortly after the hearing.
If the case is not listed for hearing via videoconferencing, the advocate-on-record concerned would be provided with a telephone number by the registry. The lawyer is free to call the judge between 10.30 and 11 a.m. the following day and directly press his case for urgent hearing.
“Based on the progress made in the next few days, cases pertaining to bail also will be considered to be listed subsequently on priority of urgency basis,” Mr. Aristotle said.