NEW DELHI: Hybrid mode of hearing of cases is not working, the Supreme Court said on Friday and said normalcy should return and courts will have to function physically as virtual hearing of cases may not become a norm.
“Sitting here in the court and watching the screen is not giving us pleasure,” a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai said.
The bench said that it wants the courts to be open to the public and that justice should be accessible to all citizens.
“We have tried hybrid mode, it is not working. People are not coming to courts. Normalcy has to return and courts have to work physically.”
The top court, which had issued notice in the matter, was hearing a petition filed by NGO National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice and eminent citizens like Julio Ribeiro, Shailesh R Gandhi, seeking to make virtual court hearings for litigants fundamental. Declaration of rights was demanded.
The bench asked the petitioners to give suggestions and said that it will consider the next date after four weeks as to how it can be taken up.
Initially, senior advocate Monoj Swarup, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the hybrid mode should be kept open for access to justice for all citizens.
“Have you seen the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by us (SC) last night? We will have to set aside the SOP then,” the bench said.
Swarup said that this petition is on behalf of the citizens who are coming to the court.
The bench said that these eminent citizens should be made aware of the fundamental principles of open court and open justice.
“We want the courts to be open to the public and that justice should be accessible. There are provisions in the CrPC and IPC that justice should be open.
It is one thing to say that court proceedings should be telecast and it is another thing to say that once we get rid of COVID-19, this institution should be closed because virtual hearing is a fundamental right of citizens which means that people need it. Do not come to court.
The top court said, “For the last two months, we have issued SOPs and made it optional. We have not seen a lawyer in the court on most days. Because people are very comfortable in their offices if they have a choice.” “
Swarup said he was not speaking from the point of view of lawyers and was appearing for the citizens.
“I stand for all citizens, please don’t shut everything down. Please have a happy alternative to hybrid mode,” he said.
The top court said that if virtual hearing becomes the rule, it will mean that the building in which the judges are sitting at present should be closed.
“You are saying that judges should sit in the courtroom and lawyers can argue from Mussoorie, Mukteshwar, Goa and London, New York. For 70 years we all have understood courts to function physically. The unprecedented pandemic We thought that the courts should continue as the citizens cannot be denied justice. That’s why we are working virtually.”
But it cannot become a benchmark where citizens are saying that we have the right to a virtual hearing.
In any case their rights will be protected.
If the decision of this court is implemented and the proceedings are telecast then those fears are dispelled.
The right of citizens to continue virtual hearings does not appear to be justified.
They want access to justice.
Access to Justice is sitting in his hometown and watching the proceedings,” the bench said.
Swarup argued that there is another dimension, what if the citizen himself wants to seek justice and personally wants to address the court? The top court then asked, “How many parties are addressing this court personally. We have one or two persons in a month.”
Swarup said that by adopting virtual hearing, the citizen gets justice at a much lower cost.
“There are seven judgments from the past few years that indicate this effect. Those in remote areas that cannot come to court, and poverty-stricken people will have access,” he said.
Apex court if the senior counsel has any data with respect to his presentations.
“Have you collected any data regarding how many people from such areas come to the Supreme Court? You have been practicing here for so many years that how many cases from remote areas have come to court.
“You know how difficult it is for a citizen to approach the Supreme Court. If we accept what the petitioner is saying, it will be the death knell for the existence of physical courts,” the court said.
Swarup reiterated that he was not submitting that the physical hearing should stop.
All I’m saying is please keep the hybrid hearing open, he said.
Elaborating on the problems of hybrid mode, the bench said, “Let us assume that you are arguing in one court and it is not as if you only have the case. When the other is in a different court for virtual hearing. Come, where are you going to argue with your mobile phone on the verandah.”
The Supreme Court said that there are many difficulties in hearing in hybrid mode.
“We tried this one where a lawyer is arguing in court, one from his office. A year later, we’re still not sure how this system is working. We have more lawyers on our side and problems. Let’s go back to the traditional Will be Vidhi. We all are missing you a lot. Sitting here in court and watching the screen is not giving us pleasure,” the bench said.
The top court said that when a lawyer is present in the court and he makes a submission while looking into our eyes, he is more effective.
“We are really unable to decide how the physical hearing will start. Because we have tried the hybrid but it is not working, people are not coming. Normalcy has to come back and the courts have to work. You submit your suggestions on how it can be considered on the next date and we will see.”