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As the Supreme Court gears up to increase its working capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Advocate Rupinder Singh Suri has urged Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and five other judges of the Apex Court to disallow Single Judge Bench hearings.
The letter addressed to CJI SA Bobde, and Justices RF Nariman, UU Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao states that Single Judge hearings do not satisfy the litigants.
"People of India have immense faith in the Supreme Court of India. It is treated as the last frontier in their quest for fairness, independence, and protection of their rights. In this background it is requested that the Supreme Court does not start the practice of matters being heard by a single judge."
A Supreme Court Bench typically has at least two judges.
However, as per the latest notification of the Court, Single Judge Benches will hear bail and anticipatory bail petitions related to offences punishable with imprisonment of less than seven years. Earlier, such cases were heard by two-judge benches.
Suri has pointed out that hearings must be before Division Benches at least, so that judges can interact with each other.
"Division benches help judges interact with each other on all aspects of the matter and to decide collectively. At times difference of opinion leads to matter being heard by another bench or larger bench. This itself is an acknowledgement that judge is a human being and prone to human frailties."
The former Supreme Court Bar Association President also explains how a judge's own "philosophy based upon their own life experiences, background and knowledge" has its bearing on orders passed.
The senior lawyer has also made a list of suggestions which the Apex Court could implement for regular court hearings.
Suri states that since many lawyers are not comfortable with arguing via video conferencing, an option must be given so that a lawyer can argue by appearing in court.
Another suggestion is for the Court to partition the area of the judges from that of the lawyers by using a plastic shield curtain and also use a different AC and ventilation so that "the immunity of judges is not compromised with".
Furthermore, the senior lawyer suggests that chambers must be opened with a capacity limited to only four members - the lawyer, a clerk, a junior, and a typist.
All of this, Suri says, needs to be coupled with strict norms of sanitization and social distancing.