~ Anubhooti Shaw
The pandemic has resulted in innumerable losses in every sector of work. From walking miles to home to receiving termination letters, not everyone was blessed with everything. The lockdown had not only locked us in but also paved the way for online upgradation. The frontline workers of law and justice also faced quite difficult times as well. Working on the border of law and justice is and has not been easy as people think it is. By refurbishing, lawyers and judges have tried using online platforms as their mode of carrying out proceedings in court.
These virtual hearings are being held from March 2020 in the Supreme Court. They are taking place in the Vidyo and Vidyo Connect platforms. Since internet and connectivity is a pardonable issue, hearings were disrupted eventually more or less every time.
ISSUES AND RESUMPTION
"There is no longer any difference between physical and virtual hearings; get used to this", said Justice AM Khanwilkar at Bombay High Court in the case of conviction of gangster Arun Gawli. Justice Gautam Patel advised in a webinar that India needs to adopt a hybrid system of hearing where the lawyers can opt for physical as well as virtual hearing. Former CIC Shailesh Gandhi Writes To Chief Justice Of India that "If Courts Adopt Virtual Court System, It May Lead To A Better Rule Of Law".
On the other hand, Orissa High Court has laid down certain rules and regulations for court proceedings virtually. One of the restrictions suggested were the unauthorized recording of the video call should not be opted. Patna High Court has come up with a new idea of studio courts. Here the judges would be sitting in their respective chambers and the lawyers would be appearing before them from another courtroom (a studio courtroom) and then the whole proceeding will commence through the virtual mode.
Lawyers being lawyers have sent letters to the Supreme Court to resume physical hearings as soon as possible. Recently 500 letters have reached on the doors of the Supreme Court seeking to resume physical hearings. They state in the letters that the online method was a failure and had many flaws. The flaws were network connectivity issues and lack of proper management by the Registry. The senior advocates raised the issue that young practitioners have been facing a difficult stage for the last 10 months. And 50% of those young practitioners had to vacate their residences because they were not able to meet the expenses.
Those letters also declare that since the High Courts have started physical hearings therefore the Apex Court can also start keeping the precautionary measures of COVID-19.
Now from last week the Supreme Court has been dropping hints that the physical hearings may start soon. The Chief Justice of India had said that he was eager to go back in action which would only be possible when the health authorities give out their opinion. Senior Advocate Vikas Singh affirmed that the common people were unable to access justice because of virtual mode of hearing. And then Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal informed "the clear and present danger" coming towards lawyers exposing themselves amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
The remark of resumption was observed when Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi claimed appearing before the bench that the concerned matter would be better handled if physical courts resumed and that was not happening soon. After this the bench replied that it would not take long and it may happen soon.
A day before, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud said that since Vidyo platforms were witnessing network and connectivity issues therefore a new and improved system of virtual mode of hearing would be introduced soon in the Supreme Court. The E-committee of the Supreme Court would make the necessary changes related to the concerned problems faced by Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar and Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal.
Whether the physical hearings resume or not, the most important factor of concern would be security and safety of every movement going along the way. In September, when physical courts resumed, the response from the action was neither good nor effective. Thus it is important to ensure safety. As Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal made it clear that the situation was still dangerous for everyone out. The second most important thing is the mindset of the people regarding the widespread virus. The people have become ignorant about the fact which shouldn't be the case. The precautionary measures and safety is in the hands of individuals who are locomoting everyday. Therefore it is important to ensure justice to all but not important than lives which have no guarantee at all.