Delhi High Court opens up video conference hearings to the public; Will other courts follow suit?

Delhi High Court opens up video conference hearings to the public; Will other courts follow suit?

Bar & Bench

The Delhi High Court on Saturday notified that it would permit the public viewing of court proceedings that are presently being conducting via video conferencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Implementing the notion that open court should be the norm, Rule 16.1 of the Delhi High Court’s Video Conferencing for Courts Rules, 2020 states,

“In order to observe the requirement of an open Court proceeding, members of the public will be allowed to view the Court hearings conducted through video conferencing, except proceedings ordered for reasons recorded in writing to be conducted in camera. The Court shall endeavour to make available sufficient links (consistent with available bandwidth) for accessing the proceedings.”

It is intimated that links to view the High Court proceedings will be offered for public viewing, so long as the stability of the system is not disturbed.

Those who are interested in obtaining the links for viewing the court hearings can contact the concerned Court Master/Court official on their mobile phone numbers which will be published in the cause list. This is to be done by 9 pm on the day prior to the date of the hearing, it is further informed.

The notice adds that if contact is not made with the Court Master/official by this time, then the person seeking a link should get in touch with the official by 10 am on the day of the hearing.

No request will be entertained once the hearing has commenced except with the permission of the court.

Further, those who are given the link should ensure that their mic is kept muted and their video is switched off throughout the court proceedings.

The Delhi High Court's June 20 notification
The Delhi High Court's June 20 notification

Measures taken by other courts during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the nationwide closure of physical courts in the recent months to guard against the spread of the virus.

Given that the access to justice could not be brought to a standstill, Indian courts adapted by promptly shifting to virtual hearings, which began with only urgent cases being taken up.

Right after the lockdown was announced, the Supreme Court of India moved to virtual hearings and has been streaming the court proceedings only in its media room for reporting purposes.

In a progressive move, the Kerala High Court was the first among the High Courts to open up its virtual hearings to the public.

As the COVID-19 situation in the State improved, the Court eventually started to function at full strength in a hybrid manner, with some of the Benches sitting in physical courts whereas other judges took up matters through video conferencing.

However, it remains to be seen whether there would be any change in this arrangement after it came to light that a COVID-19 positive police officer had entered the Court premises recently to hand over certain files to the Court.

Following this development, the KHCAA had also written to the Kerala High Court Chief Justice, urging that the High Court's physical sittings be discontinued at least until June 30 as a precautionary measure.

The Madras High Court also provides details to join the video conference hearings being conducted for urgent matters by most Benches of the Court, in the cause lists published by it. The High Court had scaled up the number of Benches sitting to hear cases, and even moved towards allowing judges to enter the court premises to conduct virtual hearings while sitting in Court as May drew to a close.

However, after three judges of the Chennai Bench tested positive for COVID-19, the Court went back to hearing only urgent matters with a limited number of judges.

A Bench of the Bombay High Court conducted a pilot open-access video conference hearing on April 9. However, the experiment has not been undertaken again since.

While the Karnataka High Court’s video conference hearings are not available for viewing by the general public, the Court has been allowing certain sections of the media to attend the same for the reporting of court proceedings.

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