Avin Gate of the Madras High Court
Avin Gate of the Madras High Court

[COVID-19 Pandemic] Madras High Court to continue hearing matters through video conference, albeit with increased sitting strength

The decision was taken on Thursday keeping in view "the peculiar grim situation" in Tamil Nadu with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meera Emmanuel

Keeping in view grim situation in Tamil Nadu as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, it has been decided that the Madras High Court will continue functioning via video conferencing, albeit with an increased strength of two Division Benches and ten Single Judges at the Principal Bench from this month.

As far as the Madurai Bench is concerned, it was decided that all judges may function by hearing matters through video conference only.

It has also been decided that the number of cases taken up during this period may be enhanced in a limited, staggered manner.

The decision was taken following a meeting held on Thursday morning via video conference with the participation of the Madras High Court Chief Justice AP Sahi and all sitting judges from both the principal and Madurai Bench of the High Court.

Earlier, it was intimated that the High Court summer vacation this year stood cancelled to make up for the loss of court work given the restricted functioning of the Court in the last two months during the COVID-19 lockdown.

During the meeting, however, it was noted that it may not be appropriate to resume normal court functioning for the time being, in the prevailing pandemic conditions. It was noted that

"Looking to the peculiar grim situation of the State of Tamil Nadu in relation to the existing status of the threat of Corona Virus, the House was of the unanimous opinion that in order to meet the situation which is likely to continue in the month of May, 2020 as predicted, it may not be appropriate to resume regular and normal functioning as that may invite the possibility of congregation of lawyers and litigants, and violation of physical distancing norms..."

In view of the situation, it was also observed that the lockdown measures in Tamil Nadu may continue for a while. All the same, it was opined that, "this continued state of lockdown should also not impede the functioning of the Courts beyond a limit."

Therefore, it was suggested that, "in order to ensure physical distancing norms, threats of spread of the endemic by physical contact and to avoid any complications arising therefrom, the system of hearing of matters through remote video conferencing be continued."

Accordingly it has been resolved as follows:

  • Instead of the regular functioning of Courts, the High Court at Principal Seat shall function through video- conferencing only with the Hon'ble Judges from their residences. This staggered functioning be conducted with the strength of Two Division Benches and Ten Single Judges.

  • The Bench at Madurai having a slightly different set up, being at a considerable distance from the township and with all the Judges living within the campus of the High Court, presently 15 in number, including the Administrative Judge, can function from their residences or their chambers through video- conferencing only.

The decision was taken also factoring in that the Computer Committee of the High Court assured that there was sufficient technical support and assistants to aid in carrying on the video conference hearings.

The High Court has been using ‘Polycom’ and ‘Cisco Webex System’ to hold hearings. Subordinate courts in the State have been using the VIDYO application. It was informed that the VIDYO application is also available for use by the High Court.

The Chairman of the Computer Committee, Justice TS Sivagnanam detailed during the meeting how the concerned officers have been equipped with the necessary hardware and software for the Court's virtual functioning. Inter alia, it was stated that the" filing system being switched over to e-filing is being successfully implemented in respect of bail matters."

The number of cases, and the kind of cases, that would be taken up is would be enhanced, in a limited, staggered manner until May 31. This may continue until the lockdown is lifted or relaxed or a decision is taken otherwise for resumption of normal functioning.

Allied directions have also been issued for subordinate courts. As far as these courts are concerned, it has been resolved:

  • The Subordinate Courts may also resume a staggered functioning with limited subject matters requiring urgent or expedient hearing till 31st of May, 2020 and subject to any further decision by the High Court. The subject matters taken up may range from Matrimonial cases; POSCO cases; Motor Accident Claims; Domestic Violence cases; Bails and Anticipatory Bails; Injunctions matters; Ex-parte Motions, Rent Control and such related matters, which may be conveniently handled through video- conferencing.

Another notable decision taken concerned the transfer of judicial officers this year, which has been deferred for now. In view of the extraordinary situation having arisen due to the impending Corona Virus and lockdown, the annual general transfers of all the Judicial Officers has been put in abeyance for a period of one year. However, this decision is subject to any exceptional cases and vacancies required to be filled in, that may be given effect to with the approval of the Chief Justice.

However, it was added that the Annual General Transfer process may be resumed if normal functioning of the High Court resumes. In such circumstances, the process may be undertaken by the end of December, 2020 so that the same may be given effect to with timely notice to the Judicial Officers in 2021.

Read the Meeting Minutes:

Meeting Minutes - Madras HC - Functioning duringCOVID-19 Lockdown.pdf
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