Virtual courts suit some lawyers, some suffer, says SC


The Supreme Court on Monday sought the stand of the Bar Council of India and the Supreme Court Bar Association on a plea seeking to declare that the right to access to virtual courts in the conduct of any case proceeding is facet of a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution.

A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and B.N. Nagarathna observed that virtual courts suit some senior counsel, who, sitting in their office, argue in several cases but a majority of lawyers are suffering.

It sought response from the bar bodies in four weeks while refusing to stay the Uttarakhand High Court’s August 16 order, declaring that court will resume physical hearing and no request for virtual hearing will be entertained. The plea has been filed by All India Jurists Association, a body of 5,000 lawyers, and others.

Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for the petitioner, stressed on continuation of hybrid hearing as it will be a relief for the litigants. He added that litigants will save cost on the lawyers to travel and also reduce the carbon footprint.

The bench queried: “How will young lawyers learn? In court, there is an eye-to-eye contact and the matter in which you argue is also effective.” It also pointed out that there is a difference between online and offline courts.

Luthra submitted that the hybrid option should continue. At this, the bench pointed out that some countries have resorted to the use of artificial intelligence in decision making. “But we’ve said clearly that it can’t be used in Indian courts,” it added.

The top court also pointed out that the Bar Council of India Chairman on Saturday, during a function, said that lawyers are suffering due to virtual hearings.

Counsel, however, emphasised that hybrid hearing should continue as access to justice is a fundamental right.

After hearing arguments, the bench said: “We will issue notice to the BCI and the SCBA. Let’s see what their response is.”

On the aspect of staying the high court order, the bench said: “We’ve seen the order but we’re not going to stay it.”

The plea had said: “The virtual court has been proscribed, by directing that no such request shall be entertained. Pertinently, the copy of the said letter has been forwarded to the Registrar Generals of all the High Courts, with an anticipation of issuance of similar such orders by other High Courts of the country.” It argued that the high court’s order is a death knell for the idea of virtual courts, which is an accessible, affordable justice in the country being propagated by the e-committee of the top court.