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Lawyers unable to present cases effectively in virtual hearings, resume physical Court hearings from July: SCAORA urges CJI SA Bobde

The letter goes on to place a consolidated list of recommendations and feedback received by SCAORA from the members of the Bar in relation to virtual hearings vis-à-vis physical court hearings.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) has written a letter to the Chief Justice of India requesting for the resumption of physical Court hearings owing to the difficulties faced by the lawyers in effectively presenting their case during virtual hearings.

The letter addressed to CJI SA Bobde by the SCAORA President Shivaji Jadhav expresses the SCAORA's gratitude to the Apex Court for ensuring that the access to justice was not halted during the COVID-19 lockdown period and that hearings were conducted through video conferencing.

However, a request has now been made for resumption of physical court hearings from July, given that many lawyers were facing severe difficulties during video conference hearings, largely due to technical glitches.

The letter acknowledges the steps taking by the Supreme Court and its e-committee for easing the process for lawyers through steps such as setting up a gateway for e-filing and Justice DY Chandrachud has been thanked for the same.

Moreover, the SCAORA has also expressed that it is happy with the acknowledgment by the e-committee Chairman that open court hearings cannot be replaced by virtual hearings, the letter says.

The letter goes on to place a consolidated list of recommendations and feedback received by SCAORA from the members of the Bar in relation to virtual hearings vis-à-vis physical court hearings.

The feedback detailed in the letter flags the various issues faced by the lawyers, including the following:

  • Most lawyers (almost 95%) are not comfortable with the Virtual Court hearings. The common feedback seems to be that the lawyers are unable to present their cases effectively in the Virtual medium and the same is acting as a major deterrent for lawyers to consent for such virtual hearings.

  • In matter involving several parties and appearance by many lawyers, not all lawyers are given a chance to speak and sometimes, their mics are put on mute by the Coordinator as a result of which, their matters get heard in their absence.

  • There are problems with audio and video quality of hearings, which results in the lawyers not being able to effective put forth their arguments.

  • Many lawyers are not well equipped with knowledge on the use of computers and hence they are unable to participate in the process effectively.

  • There are still several lawyers who are outside Delhi/NCR and in their respective hometowns, not having access to their files and thus unable to participate effectively in Virtual Court hearings.

  • Many a times, when a Senior Advocate or arguing Counsel appears, he/she is left to appear on their own. The AOR/briefing lawyer is unable to assist them effectively in this virtual medium.

  • Most lawyers are facing severe financial problems during this pandemic, due to staggered working of Courts for the past 3 months. Several lawyers have expressed their concern over to the Executive Committee of SCAORA over the loss of livelihood during the past few months. Unless the normal functioning of Courts is resumed, the said concern will not abate.

  • Many times, all documents filed through E-filing are not available with the Bench.

  • Lawyers are not able to effectively present their cases like reading out Judgments, provisions from Bare Acts etc.

  • After filing of matters, the Registry takes its own time to scrutinize matters. Lawyers are having to follow up and give several reminders to the Registry officials. The defect curing mechanism, as well as the registration of matters, are problematic areas which need urgent reconsideration.

In light of the plethora of issues faced by the lawyers, the SCAORA has requested for the resumption of physical hearings from July 2020, after the summer vacation, albeit with measures for safety in place.

The Supreme Court may consider imposing conditions to ensure everyone's safety, the letter adds and enlists a number of suggestions and recommendations to this effect. These include:

  1. The total number of matters be split into two slots, to be taken up before lunch and post lunch. Every lawyer could be required to compulsorily leave the Courtroom after his/her matter is over.

  2. Limited number of lawyers per matter be allowed, such as only the concerned AOR with Senior Advocate or arguing Counsel and one junior lawyer.

  3. Lawyers appearing in 10 matters be allowed to be present at any given time. (Items 1-10, 11-20, 21-30 and likewise).

  4. Entry of litigants, interns and law students be restricted for the time being.

  5. Clerks’ entry/exit be regulated. They may be permitted to keep the files and books before the Court sits and retrieve the same after the Court rises.

  6. The existing distance between the lawyers and Judges be increased. The quality and working of mics be improved so that lawyers can be heard even from a distance.

  7. Every person entering Court room be necessarily told to sanitize his/her hands.

  8. Wearing of masks be made compulsory for all lawyers even inside the Courtroom, with the lawyer who is arguing to wear a face shield.

  9. Separate door for entry and exit of lawyers be earmarked.

  10. Entry to lawyers in the Court be confined only to the lawyers in the cause list. The library, canteen etc. to remain closed.

Read the Letter:

SCAORA Representation to Honble The CJI for Resumption of Physical Courts- 02.06.2020.pdf
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