Functioning Of Courts In India During Lock-Down

On April 6, 2020, Hon’ble Supreme Court of India issued directions in a matter taken up Suomoto to establish the guidelines for the effective working of the Courts in India through video conferencing during the COVID-19 lockdown. [1]

The bench of CJI SA Bobde and Justices DY Chandrachud and L NageshwaraRao issued the following directions under Articles 142 of the Constitution of India:

  • All measures that have been and shall be taken by this Court and by the High Courts, to reduce the need for the physical presence of all stakeholders within court premises and to secure the functioning of courts in consonance with social distancing guidelines and best public health practices shall be deemed to be lawful;
  • 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;
  • Consistent with the peculiarities of the judicial system in every state and the dynamically developing public health situation, every High Court is authorized to determine the modalities which are suitable to the temporary situation to use the video conferencing technologies;
  • 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.
  • The District Courts in each State shall adopt the mode of Video Conferencing prescribed by the concerned High 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.
  • If necessary, in appropriate cases courts may appoint amicus-curiae and make video conferencing facilities available to such an advocate.
  • Until appropriate rules are framed by the High Courts, video conferencing shall be mainly employed for hearing arguments whether at the trail stage or at the appellate stage.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, where the number of litigants are many, the presiding offer shall have the power to restrict the numbers. The presiding offer shall in his decision discretion adjourn the proceedings where it is not possible to restrict the number.”

The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) vide its notice dated 22.03.2020 had suspended judicial functioning and also mentioned that it would only hear matters which are unavoidable and urgent. For the filing and listing of these matters, an application has to be filed through email to the registry NCLT Chennai after the service of notice to the opposite party. Thereafter, appropriate orders would be passed by the Acting President (presiding at Chennai). It has also been made very clear by this notice that the parties/counsel would not be given a chance to make any oral submissions.

In light of hardship faced by the litigants due to restrictive functioning of the court, a resolution has been passed by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court on 09.04.2020, both Delhi High court as well as the subordinate courts will remain operational in the entire month of June.

In view of the extension of the lockdown on 14.04.2020, NCLT vide notice dated 14.04.2020 has extended the direction of the notice dated 22.03.2020 issued by the NCLT with approval of Hon’ble Acting President, NCLT.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) vide its notice dated 14.04.2020 in lieu of the extension of nationwide lockdown till the 03.05.2020, has adjourned all the matters listed from 16.04.2020 to 04.05.2020. The matter which are urgent may be mentioned before the Hon’ble President, NCDRC at 11:00 am at his Residential Office at 18, Akhbar Road, New Delhi – 110011 during this lockdown period.

On April 14, 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced the extension of a Nationwide lockdown extending up to May 3, 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had suspended its regular functioning and announced the hearing of extremely urgent cases. The hearing of these extremely urgent cases is being held through video conferencing. To expedite the filing for these cases and documents, an e-filing software has been developed which is in its advanced stage of trial. The Supreme Court of India had designated the Vidyo app for the proceedings and all the High Courts are open to use their choice of platform for video conferencing.

 

[1] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/10853/10853_2020_0_1_21588_Judgement_06-Apr-2020.pdf

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