"It is highly appreciable that this Hon'ble Court has opted to go on virtual mode to provide uninterrupted access to justice to the common citizens of this country, however, this virtual functioning of Courts system has more lacunaes than its benefits," wrote a group of over 500 lawyers to the Chief Justice of India on Saturday.
The representation has been made seeking resumption of physical hearing, as there are many practical issues and problems being faced by the members of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and their staffs, viz.:
- Network connectivity issues;
- No proper management by the Registry, regarding virtual hearing;
- No response to the calls by the dealing officers in hand mentioning branch;
- Dismissal of mentioning of urgent matters by the mentioning branch without providing any reason for the same;
- More than 50% of young practitioners of this Bar have been constrained to leave Delhi as they were unable to meet out their living expenses;
- Members staying in Delhi NCR, and practicing before this Hon'ble Court have huge effect on their earnings due to which, either they have to depend on their family or on odd jobs.
In this backdrop, the lawyers wrote that the virtual system has failed to adequately serve as an effective justice delivery system, and the same is evident from the fact that the Attorney General and even many Judges have expressed their annoyance regarding the effectiveness of this mechanism.
It is averred that majority members of the Bar are not well versed with the virtual system and that is another reason adding to their sufferings for the past 10 months, in a sense defeating the purpose of justice system.
The letter adds that Covid-19 restrictions have been eased in all Government as well as Private Sectors. Many High Courts have started working on regular physical mode (along with virtual hearing) and even the Supreme Court Registry is working physically.
Therefore, the lawyers urged that the Top Court to introduce a hybrid system— permitting both regular physical hearing and virtual hearing, and allow the members of the Bar to opt for any of the two mediums.
Inter alia, the letter highlights the grievances related to mentioning and listing of matters. It is stated,
"We the members of this Bar are feeling helpless because the mentioning Branch do not respond to our calls throughout the day (working hours) resulting in many important matters remain pending adjudication and become infructuous irrespective of the fact whether these matters are fresh or coming after notice. Many matters relating to the life and liberty of citizens including bail matters which require immediate attention still remain unheard creating helpless situation for the litigants and the lawyers."
It is significant to note at this juncture that on Tuesday, the CJI highlighted the risks attached with resuming physical hearings during an ongoing pandemic, while hearing a PIL in that regard.
He observed that Virtual hearings, though forced by the global pandemic, are "as good as Open Court Hearings". He added that the decision to convene Court proceedings via video conferencing is taken after extensive deliberations with medical experts.