Virtual hearings are not the new normal, cannot substitute physical courts: Justice RS Endlaw, Kapil Sibal, Lalit Bhasin

They were speaking at an event organised by Confederation of Indian Industries and Society of India Law Firms.
Virtual hearings are not the new normal, cannot substitute physical courts: Justice RS Endlaw, Kapil Sibal, Lalit Bhasin
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, Judge, Delhi High Court, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, Advocate Lalit Bhasin at an event organised by Confederation of Indian Industries and Society of India Law Firms.

Virtual hearings are not the new normal and virtual courts cannot substitute physical courts, opined Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, Judge, Delhi High Court and Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal at an event organised by Confederation of Indian Industries and Society of India Law Firms.

It is the new normal till the pandemic lasts. I don't see it as a normal for normal times.
Justice Endlaw said.

Agreeing with Justice Endlaw, Senior Advocate Sibal remarked,

Technology is not a full time solution to everything. For technology to work, you need to have infrastructure..Technology is for the rich and the powerful. Unless the infrastructure reaches the poor.. what are you talking about!

The online event was centred on the theme "virtual courts".

Apart from Justice Endlaw and Sibal, Advocate Lalit Bhasin also shared his views on the functioning of virtual courts and tribunals during the pandemic.

He said,

"We are doing a lip service to the cause of administration of justice. We started from the top courts by introducing the technology..we should have started from the bottom..Matters are just being renotified by tribunals."

Bhasin added that that "no meaningful contribution was being made to the cases" and it was Registry which was deciding "what was important and urgent."

Weighing in on the issue of listing of cases before the Supreme Court and High Courts, Senior Advocate Sibal remarked that only some selective cases of the powerful were getting listed while ordinary matters were languishing in the Registry.

He said,

"Court must be transparent in the matters of listing..The procedure within the courts is the matter of the court. The burden is on the court to put the system in place.", he said.

On the issue of the courts responsibility to ensure the development of infrastructure of virtual hearings, Sibal also observed that all courts across the country were using different platforms.

"There is no other High court in India that functions as well. Vidyo is one of the worst platforms that I have used.", he said.

The three speakers also expressed their thoughts on the drawbacks to a virtual court system.

Justice Endlaw said that several infrastructural issues such as bandwidth and availability of electronic files etc in lower courts, absence of "workspace" in house haunted holding courts virtually.

Expressing his reservations on conducting trial virtually, Justice Endlaw remarked that the formal atmosphere of a courtroom was essential, especially for cross-examination.

Senior Advocate Sibal added that the physical presence of a witness was also necessary for a judge to decide his/her character.

He stressed that what cases could be taken up virtually could be decided by Courts and a consultation with the lawyers, government and judges along with the public was necessary to decide any forward movement.

Bhasin said that his grievance was that the courts were no longer open courts as the entry to virtual courts was restricted in nature.

Senior Advocate Sibal added,

"That's how lawyers learn. That's the romance of law. That is over."

The speakers nonetheless agreed that virtual hearings did bring certain positives along and could act as a supplement.

Bhasin remarked that the pandemic definitely encouraged online arbitration.

In response to a query if right to internet could be a fundamental right, Sibal said that India was yet to reach this stage.

"Let's not expand it to this extreme.. Right to information is also not a fundamental right here, to be honest. Let us protect the fundamental rights we have first.", he said.

Read the entire account of the event here:

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