New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) Courts, at all levels, must respond to the call of social distancing and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of coronavirus, said the Supreme Court on Monday, passing a slew of directions for all courts in the country extensively using video-conferencing as a medium to conduct hearings.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao, exercised its plenary power under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct all the High Courts to frame a mechanism for hearing through video conferencing.

“The Supreme Court of India and all High Courts are authorized to adopt measures required to ensure the robust functioning of the judicial system through the use of video conferencing technologies,” it observed.

The district courts in each state shall adopt the mode of video conferencing prescribed by the High Court concerned, it said. “The concerned courts shall maintain a helpline to ensure that any complaint in regard to the quality or audibility of feed shall be communicated during the proceeding or immediately after its conclusion, failing which no grievance in regard to it shall be entertained thereafter,” said the apex court.

The court shall duly notify and make available the facilities for video conferencing for such litigants who do not have the means or access to video conferencing facilities. “In no case shall evidence be recorded without the mutual consent of both the parties by video conferencing. If it is necessary to record evidence in a court room, the presiding officer shall ensure that appropriate distance is maintained between any two individuals in the Court,” said the court.

The apex court has limited its functioning to hear only extremely urgent matters through video conferencing during the lockdown period since March 25, stressing that “technology is here to stay.”

The top court has taken suo motu (on its own) cognizance of a letter written by senior advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association’s (SCBA) former President Vikas Singh, who suggested measures for use of technology for hearing. “The presiding officer shall have the power to restrict entry of persons into the court room or the points from which the arguments are addressed by the advocates. No presiding officer shall prevent the entry of a party to the case unless such party is suffering from any infectious illness,” said the court.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal contended the lawyers will be the best judge having the most efficient system, and the department concerned should examine the aspect which is the most efficient and cheap application for lawyers across the country. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that this is the best solution would be to have short hearings.

“Modern technology has enabled courts to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the administration of justice. Technology has facilitated advances in speed, accessibility and connectivity which enable the dispensation of justice to take place in diverse settings and situations without compromising the core legal principles of adjudication,” said the top court.

The Director General of National Informatics Centre, present in the hearing, said three things are required for video-conferencing — good broadband connection, good devices and conduct of people, where people should use mute while the other person is arguing.




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