Gujarat High Court
Gujarat High Court

Inside the Virtual Court: Gujarat High Court's Report on its functioning during the COVID-19 Lockdown

The Report summarises its tryst with the virtual with descriptions of various aspects of video conferencing. As per the Report, 13,339 Orders and 320 Judgments were passed by the High Court between March 24 and June 30.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court has commissioned a Monthly Report documenting the functioning of the Court over Video Conferencing during the period of the lockdown.

The first in this series, titled “Report on the Working of Courts through Video Conferencing During Lockdown”, contains useful statistics on the number of matters filed, registered, and disposed of between March 24, 2020, and June 30, 2020. The report further classifies them by their type and the nature of relief sought. In its shift to video conferencing, the Court also suspended its annual vacation, the Report records.

Published to inform stakeholders of how the Court has been discharging its judicial functions throughout the period of the lockdown, the Report summarises its tryst with the virtual with brief descriptions of various aspects of the video conferencing process.

The first of these being ‘filing and registration’, the report records the filing of 8,138 matters between March 24 and June 30. Every interim application filed was registered. However of the 5,966 'main case matters' registered, only 5,401 were registered. The remaining cases were sent back to the filing advocates to rectify errors and remove objections.

The cases filed were a mix of both civil and criminal applications. The civil applications arose out of writ petitions, appeals, and special applications, and criminal matters concerned applications for bails, paroles, and quashes of criminal proceedings.

Additionally, a total of 25 habeas corpus petitions were filed, with the "corpuses" presented over video conference. While at first only urgent petitions were permitted to be filed, towards the end of the report period other matters were also allowed to be filed and registered.

The Report documents the listing of more than 15,000 matters, including that of those filed prior to the lockdown period. As the Court constituted more benches for case hearings, matters began to be assigned to benches via a randomisation software, the Report states.

As a third feature, the report describes the particulars of Court sittings. Over a period of 99 days, the Court heard cases on 87 days, with urgent matters being heard even after regular Court hours. The Report also mentions the Gujarat High Court’s hearing of one matter at midnight.

An average of five benches was constituted to decide matters per day, with the number increased to ten benches per day during the first week of June. After June 16, all Judges began being entrusted with work, with 3 Division Benches and 21 Single-Judge Benches presiding over matters on a daily basis.

"There have been some interesting experiences of some learned advocates having joined the VC (virtual court) hearing from their cars while travelling or for the reason of some power failure at home and sitting in the car to attend the Court, using the power and airconditioner resources of the vehicle."
The High Court's Report

According to the Report, 13,339 Orders and 320 Judgments were passed by the High Court between March 24 and June 30. Judges have been dictating pronouncements from their homes while stenographers attached to Courts record these and forward it to the Registry, for dissemination to the parties involved as well as internet portals.

Notably, a “mentioning platform” has set-up by the High Court, so as to provide counsels with an avenue to get their urgent matters heard and listed, once found ‘urgent’ by the Court, the Report highlights.

The Report also includes an explainer on the virtual hearing system set up by the Court over the Zoom Video Conferencing Application, setting-out the modalities.

Advocates whose names and numbers are registered with the Court are automatically sent a link to the virtual courtroom via SMS as and when their case is scheduled for hearing, per the cause list. A total of five matters are heard at a time, the Report explains.

Further, a feature of Zoom called the “breakout room” has been utilised as a kind of “waiting room” where advocates can wait till their cases are called-up for hearing. In the meantime, the lawyers are allowed to meet and interact with one another in this segment of the virtual court.

An online display board is also automatically updated to display the item being heard, the Report states.

In a notable achievement, court officers are increasingly handling the various aspects of the virtual court, including the dispatch of conference links and coordination with the registry. This, the Report notes, is being done without the intervention of “technical persons”.

The Report further encloses detailed statistics of each of the aspects described.

Reports on Virtual Hearings will be published by the Court on a monthly basis, the Report states.

Read the Complete Report here:

Report on Working of the Courts through Video Conferencing.pdf
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