New Delhi: Are virtual courts becoming a major deterrent for delivering justice in the country? This seems to be the feeling of most lawyers practicing in the Supreme Court.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the virtual mode of hearings in the apex court which was started following the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates have written to the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde to commence physical hearing of the cases from July.
In a letter to the CJI, the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) have urged the CJI to restore physical hearings of the courts citing that they are unable to present their cases effectively in virtual mode.
The letter, written by SCAORA president Shivaji M Jadhav, stated that the open court hearings are the spine of the legal system and that virtual courts are not substitute to physical hearings in the court.
The letter also highlighted the issues faced by advocates during e-filing of cases and hearing through video conferencing.
“Almost 95 per cent of lawyers are not comfortable with the virtual court hearings. The lawyers are unable to present their cases effectively in the virtual medium and the same is acting as a major deterrent for lawyers to consent for such virtual hearings. Many advocates are not familiar with computers and sometimes the documents filed through e-filing are not available with the bench,” reads the letter.
Supreme Court advocate-on record Sudhanshu Palo said that it is not possible to provide justice to all in virtual hearings.
“In India people can get justice very easily in physical court hearings. There are technical issues and in many cases people are not well acquainted with video conferencing. All lawyers are not equipped with the proper infrastructure to make arguments through video conferencing. Many people were directly and indirectly dependent upon the lawyers for their livelihood are now jobless. The number of matters also reduced in the virtual mode. Like all other offices, the courts should also open and start physical hearing,” Palo said.
However, advocate Anupradha Singh, practicing in Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, maintained that it is not the right time to commence physical hearing.
“As the number of COVID-19 cases is rapidly increasing every day, it is not yet the time to resume physical appearance in the courts, however, keeping in view of the fact that some advocates are facing technical glitches, physical hearing may be resumed by adhering to social distancing norms if parties appearing give consent,” she said.
Meanwhile, the apex court has issued a circular asking for written consent to consider resuming physical hearings.
“In view of the request received from various quarters and in order to explore the feasibility fo physical appearance of advocates in the court, while adhering to social distancing norms, it is hereby notified to all the advocates and party-in-person to give their joint consent for physical appearing and arguing in court, only on receipt of consent of all parties to that effect, the matters will be considered for listing before the court, subject to availability of the bench,” reads the circular.