Supreme Court move on physical hearings twice a week starts off debate

Lawyers at the Supreme Court. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court’s decision to shift gears from virtual to physical hearings twice a week became a hot point of debate on the very first day of the court’s re-opening after Dasara holidays on Wednesday, October 20, 2021.

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Several senior lawyers across the spectrum, including senior advocate Kapil Sibal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, urged Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana to not make physical hearings mandatory.

Mr. Sibal said physical hearings should not be made a “hard-and-fast rule”.

The senior lawyer said some cases had records which ran into 50 to 60 volumes, and allowing just one briefing lawyer inside the courtroom would affect proper legal representation of the matter.

Modified SOP

The CJI said the court was forced to modify its standard operating procedure (SOP) to make physical court mandatory on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The first full physical hearing in the Supreme Court would start from October 21, a Thursday.

The CJI said certain sections had been clamouring that the court was “shirking” from physical hearings.

According to the modified SOP, lawyers have an option to opt either physical or virtual mode on Tuesdays.

The Chief Justice said some of his colleagues still had reservations about physical hearings.

Hybrid hearings

Mr. Sibal said several High Courts continued to hold hybrid hearings. He said physical hearings should be given further thought and any positive action on it should be deferred to after Deepavali.

The Chief Justice explained that a committee of Supreme Court judges set up by former Chief Justice S.A. Bobde decided the issue of physical hearings. Mr. Sibal’s request had to be put before this committee.

Mr. Sibal said he and other lawyers could meet the committee this week.

The CJI agreed to place the issue before other judges later in the day.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who is the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said he objected to Mr. Sibal’s plea.

Mr. Singh said he was in favour physical hearings every day of the week.

“Many young lawyers are on the verge of starvation. Senior lawyers can take a break for six months. I am myself willing to take a break,” Mr. Singh submitted.

‘Not an election speech’

“This is not an election speech,” Mr. Mehta said.

Earlier this month, the court had released its modified SOP after taking in suggestions from the Bar and advice from experts to make access to the courtrooms less cumbersome.

Chief Justice Ramana had recently informed senior advocates that the court was working on striking a balance between access to lawyers to courts and their safety and good health at workplace.

The CJI had said the court was apprehensive about how crowded courtrooms would expose lawyers and staff to infection.

In the modified rules, the court said there would be a 15-minute break at the discretion of the Bench during physical hearings. The courtrooms had to be vacated during this interval in order for them to be sanitised.

Lawyers would be called in one case after the other. They can wait at the Bar lounges in the building for their cases to be called. This had been done to avoid crowds in the corridors.

The court has, however, added a rider to the physical hearings on non-miscellaneous days, saying that a Bench could take a call to revert to virtual mode if it found that the number of lawyers in a particular case exceeded the working capacity of the courtroom as per the COVID-19 norms.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 8:48:17 PM |

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