The epidemic and ensuring safety in courts 

#GS2 #Judiciary #GS3 #Technology 

Suitable measures must be put in place for conducting proceedings after the lockdown is lifted 

  • In a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India, the Bar Council of India has opposed the continuation of virtual hearings once the lockdown is lifted, on the grounds that 90% of the advocates and judges are “unaware of technology and its nuances”.  
  • Once the lockdown is lifted, unless the number of advocates/litigants is restricted in open court proceedings, the possibility of the virus spreading is high. 
  • On April 6, invoking its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court issued certain directions for the functioning of courts through video conferencing during the lockdown.  
  • The Court directed the State officials of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to liaison with the respective High Courts and formulate a plan for the virtual functioning of courts.  
  • A virtual court hearing is one where there is no physical court room. All the participants take part in proceedings using telephone or video conferencing facilities.  
  • In its order, the Supreme Court had also indicated that the district courts would follow the video conferencing rules as formulated by the respective High Courts. 

E-filing system 

  • In India, most advocates and litigants are unaware of and unwilling to use these services.  
  • The e-filing system was introduced in the Delhi High Court in 2009, compared to the other High Courts in the country, the Delhi High Court is far ahead in terms of technology.  
  • There is also sufficient technical manpower in the Delhi High Court (70) and district courts (30).  
  • The facility for e-filing of cases pertaining to the Delhi High Court was also made available from April 7, 2020, at all the court complexes of the Delhi district courts. 
  • The method of hearing post lockdown will depend on the facilities available at the court concerned.  
  • While such facilities are largely available in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, they are not available in the various other High Courts and subordinate courts.  
  • The judiciary must be allotted sufficient funds for self-administration and timely delivery of justice.  

Implementing guidelines 

  • As much of the Supreme Court and many High Courts will remain closed for the summer, the High Courts can consider constituting committees, as the Delhi High Court did, to create graded plans for the courts functioning after the lockdown.  
  • They can formulate plans based on the availability of infrastructure to conduct virtual hearings or actual hearings, or by running courts in shifts.  
  • In case any of the courts are inclined to conduct open court hearings, they may have to implement some guidelines.  
  • One, only those lawyers/litigants whose cases are listed for the day’s hearing should be allowed to enter court halls.  
  • Two, the lawyers must enter in batches according to the serial number in the list.  
  • Three, thermal image cameras must be installed at the entrance of every court building, to identify risk persons.  
  • Four, every person entering the court premises must install the Aarogya Setu app on their phones.  
  • Five, at the entrance of every court complex, an automatic hand wash faucet should be installed.  
  • Six, there should be regulations on the manner of functioning and running of public utility services, canteens, etc., within the court premises with all necessary precautions.  
  • Seven, masks, gloves and sanitisers should be made available.  
  • Importantly, as junior lawyers have been seriously impacted by the lockdown, they should receive financial assistance (even in the form of a loan from a nationalised bank) from the Central government. 
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