Decongestion of courts, limited functioning: Karnataka HC issues Revised Action Plan for subordinate courts during COVID-19 lockdown

Decongestion of courts, limited functioning: Karnataka HC issues Revised Action Plan for subordinate courts during COVID-19 lockdown

Rintu Mariam Biju

The Karnataka High Court recently issued a Revised Action Plan for the functioning of district and taluka courts amid the Coronavirus Lockdown.

In this regard, the following directions have been issued by the Court:

Decongestion of offices and court rooms

  • A strategy on decongestion of the offices of the Courts and Court rooms, will have to be evolved.

  • All measures should be taken to provide better ventilation to the Court offices.

  • To ensure that a distance of one meter is maintained between the working tables/work stations in the offices to ensure that requisite

    social distance is maintained.

  • As a measure of decongestion, use of air-conditioners in the

    Court rooms will have to be prohibited for the time being

    with a direction to keep the windows and doors of the Court

    rooms open.

  • The Principal District Judges/Principal Judges shall immediately contact District Administration and disinfect the Court premises including the premises of the Bar Associations by use of disinfectant spray.

Limited functioning of courts between May 4-16

  • In the Court complexes having more than 20 Judicial Officers, on all working days, 1/5th of the judges shall sit for hearing of cases. While providing sitting, Principal District Judges/Principal Judges shall ensure that at least one judge each from each cadre i.e., District Judges, Senior Civil Judges and Civil Judges are available.

  • In smaller Courts having 5 or less number of officers, only one Judge should be provided sitting every day.

  • Jurisdictional Magistrates or Special Judges shall regularly attend to remand work. Even for first remand, the judicial officers will request the concerned police station/investigating agencies to arrange production of the accused only via video conference.

Listing of cases

  • Judicial Officers sitting should have regular cause list, which ideally should be notified in advance. However, only those matters where submissions are to be heard, such as, final arguments in the proceedings both Civil and Criminal, including appeals/revisions, interim applications or applications for bail etc., can be heard by judicial officers only by video conferencing and with the consent of the parties.

  • No judicial work should be done in absence of the parties except for framing issues in civil suits.

  • All judges who have reserved judgments/orders shall try to pronounce the same in these two weeks. The date and time of pronouncement shall be communicated to the parties and shall be pronounced only via video conferencing.

  • During the extended lockdown, the existing arrangement of e-filing will

    continue. However, e-filing of any urgent matters shall be permitted by the Principal District Judges/Principal Judges.

  • Bar Association building and canteens shall not open/function for a period of two weeks. In line with the previously issued instructions, everyone who enters the Court premises including the Judicial Officers shall be subjected to thermal screening/temperature check through

    health workers of the State Government and should wear masks.

  • The Principal District Judges/Principal Judges shall ensure that not more than 15 to 20% staff members are called every day during the extended lockdown.

  • No Advocate/Advocates’ clerks/party-in-person will be allowed entry to the Court precincts except for payment of Court fees and process fees on Mondays and Fridays.

Preventive Measures

  • The scanning of lawyers, party-in-persons, members of the staff and litigants will be done at the entry point by using thermal scanners and anyone who is found to have fever or symptoms of COVID- 19 at the time of inspection/scanning, will not be allowed to enter the Court premises.

  • For each Court, a rough estimate of quantity of masks, hand sanitizer and liquid soap hand wash required for one month shall be prepared. During the lockdown period, a requisition should be submitted to the District Administration/State Government to provide adequate number of appropriate masks, appropriate quantity of hand sanitizer and liquid soap.

This apart, the High Court has urged that a separate strategy be evolved for courts where there is an unusual rush of litigants and lawyers such as the City Civil Court Complex, Mayo Hall Court Complex, CMM Court Complex and Family Court Complex, Bengaluru and other district court complexes where there are large number of courts.

The notification further clarified that the instructions regarding judicial officers mentioned above shall not be applicable to courts in Red Zones.

As regards districts which are declared as Orange Zones, the Principal District Judges/Principal Judges shall interact with the Deputy Commissioners of the districts concerned and workout an action plan.

It was also stated that in the court complexes which are in ‘Containment Zone’ in Orange zones, the action plan of judicial officers shall not be implemented, and the present guidelines permitting e-filing and video conferencing hearing shall continue.

With respect to districts in green zones, the Action Plan shall be implemented from May 4.

It further reads,

"The Principal District Judge/Principal Judge shall note that even in those Court Complexes where few Judicial Officers are permitted to sit, as stated above, hearing of final arguments should be conducted only by way of video conferencing hearing and the Judicial Officers can do such other work where the presence of the parties and members of the bar is not required."

The judges in charge of district courts are also required to ensure that while commencing the limited functioning of the courts, breach of any of the directions issued by the Central or state government in relation to COVID-19 is not committed.

It is also made clear that e-filing will continue and physical filing shall only commence after being expressly allowed by the High Court.

[Read notification here]

Revised Action Plan for Dist and Taluka Courts- 3rd May.pdf
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