A committee of seven Supreme Court judges, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, has decided to continue the virtual court system and not revert to the physical hearings, given the “alarming growth” in novel coronavirus cases and its fallout.
A letter from the Supreme Court Registry to the office-bearers of the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association said the “Supreme Court of India shall continue functioning through the virtual court system for the present, with further direction that the matters may be listed before hon’ble judge-in-chambers as well as before the court of the registrar, through virtual court system only, to enable wider participation of learned advocates”.
The Registry informed the lawyers that the committee would next meet on June 30 or any other suitable date to again take stock of the situation and further consider suggestions.
On June 2, the court agreed to consult and explore the feasibility of physical appearances of advocates in the court while adhering to physical distancing norms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court has been hearing urgent cases through video-conference. The Benches hearing these cases sit in the courtrooms, while lawyers make their submissions , through video links from their homes or offices. The court had named this mechanism the virtual court system.
The Supreme Court Advocates-on Record Association, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Bar Council of India have been repeatedly making representations to the court that a majority of the lawyers feel that they cannot effectively present their arguments at virtual hearings. They have been urging the court to resume physical court hearings from July.
In a circular issued in the first week of June, the court indicated it was open to physical court hearings, provided advocates and parties gave a joint consent with regard to their “willingness for physically appearing and arguing in court”.
The court had then said it would consider the possibility subject to the availability of Benches, the orders of the competent authority and physical distancing norms. However, subsequent consultations and the increase in infections, especially in the capital, have led the judges to re-think their options.
The other members of the committee are Justices Arun Mishra, RF Nariman, UU Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and L Nageswara Rao.