Chief Justice of India S. A. Bobde told The Hindu in a phone interview that the three ‘Ms’ — money, men and material — are with the Executive, which is the most suitable organ of governance to deal with the problems arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. The CJI clarified that hearing of cases through videoconferencing are not in-camera hearings and virtual courts are not closed courts.
The Supreme Court has acted with certain restraint during the lockdown days
Imagine if this was an earthquake or floods or whatever... This is really a situation when the Executive gets into action. The usual three ‘Ms’ are ‘men, material and money’. It is very difficult for the court to assume charge and say ‘this is what the priority should be’ and ‘this is what it should be like’. The Executive is better suited to decide on the ‘whats’, ‘hows’ and ‘whens’ of deploying money, material and men.
Of course, the courts ensure that rule of law does not suffer and people’s lives and properties do not suffer. But courts cannot deal with the situation on the ground. What do courts normally do? Courts declare rights, which are given effect to by the Executive. This is not a situation where declaration of rights has much priority or as much importance as in other times.
So, it comes down to the question of which organ of governance is best suited for the situation. Other than looking at the validity of administrative and executive action and protecting, say, the right to life, the courts have little to do.
The virus has changed the way cases are heard, from open court system to videoconferencing
Videoconferencing does not mean courts are closed. Virtual courts are not in-camera courts. When the video links are given, there are people who can see what is happening on the screen from where the lawyers address the court. We are not prohibiting that. It is not a binary situation.
The distinction made between videoconferencing and open court system is not accurate. A better description would be virtual courts and ‘courts in congregation’.
There is no absence of openness in the present videoconferencing proceedings. Things are not being decided without anybody coming to know. Litigants can watch the proceedings. Lawyers are present. The other side is there. The court is there. Court staff is there. Live reporting by the media is happening. Even people who are waiting for their cases to be called out are watching.
Yes, maybe the number of people who could attend like in a court in congregation is reduced. That is because a social distancing norm is in place as it is being done all over the country.
What has changed in the justice administration system after the lockdown
- 593 cases heard
- 17 days of hearing
- 87 Benches convened, including 34 Benches for main matters and 53 Benches for review petitions
- 41 judgments delivered
- 84 review petitions decided
The fact of the matter is there is much less pressure on the courts as very few actions are being taken in the country which normally generate litigation. The courts are not executing decrees, landlords are not throwing tenants out, there is no employer-employee trouble. Yes, there was total disarray in the labour field... But what I am saying is, normally problems come from recovery, execution, tenants and landlords, administration action... The police are not as active in law and order area as it was earlier. I suppose criminals are less active in their areas, I suppose, I don't know... So, generally, events that generate litigation are few and far between. To that extent, pressure is also less on the courts and filing of cases is not what it was.
The court is going through a unique experience during the time of the COVID-19 lockdown which has crossed 30 days
The whole country is going through it and bearing it stoically. One has to be stoic in such a situation. The courts are doing their best to cope with the situation, in particular, they are selecting and prioritising matters they must hear. Courts are continuing to hear cases despite constraints through videoconferencing.
Will the functioning of the court return to normal after May 3
Too hazardous to say anything now. WHO projection for Maharashtra is a huge number. We don't know what is going to happen in Delhi. We are watching the situation closely and reviewing it once or twice a week. I am doing it. There is a committee set up by the judges to meet with the members of the Bar and take a decision.