Supreme Court recently clarified that during the hard times of the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting the practice of “Court Hearings” through video conferencing is not against the concept of “Open -Hearing”.
Advancement in the technological aspects must be appreciated, welcome, and accepted by all the stakeholders as necessities of a fair adjudicatory process in a virtual court system, stated the court while further adding that though initially technological challenges must be faced by the virtual court system, efforts should be continued to strengthen its roots. Recently, the Chairman of Bar Council of India advised the Chief Justice of India against the continuation of virtual hearing post lockdown as according to him this will adversely affect the “open court practice” and judicial transparency.
The supreme court said that the existence of the open court was developed when the technology was not so advanced. But, in this new era where technology controls every aspect of our lives, it cannot be said that the virtual courtrooms are, in any way, opposing the open court system. In the detailed press note issued on Saturday, the Top Court said that the traditional open court system and new-age virtual court system are not contrary to each other, but both the systems co-exist. For the process of open court hearings, the presence of Advocates, Litigants, and Media Representatives is allowed in the court premises. Since the same now has been acquired by the virtual court system, the Supreme Court said the essentials of an open court system, thus, are not the physical presence of the parties or the media in a brick-and-mortar courtroom. Throwing light on the argument, the court said that the hearings not taking place in general public view does is not a valid point of debate as access of the general public to hearings was not even allowed before the pandemic. The supreme court further observed that the Open Court is not an end in itself but a medium of fair judicial procedure. Lastly, it was concluded by the supreme court that this Virtual Court System is beneficial for the Litigants and the Counsels in terms of time, money, and energy, also, by ensuring their presence numerous times before the court which could be a game-changer. As of now, the Supreme Court has heard 538 matters in addition to 297 connected cases. In 22 days of hearing via video conferencing. 116 benches of the top Court delivered judgments in 57 CAVs (Curia advisari vult which means "the court wishes to consider the matter" or "the court wishes to be advised") matter and 226 connected matters. While comparing this data with the achievements of courts in foreign jurisdictions, the Supreme Court said that the Indian Judiciary is one of the most robust and progressive judicial institutions around the world. The aforesaid data across various judiciaries indicate with the lockdown and social distancing norms in place to fight the spread of the COVID-19 infection, very few have been able to manage what the Supreme Court of India has delivered.