Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court had been hearing matters since March last year through video conferencing, however, it will resume its physical hearings with the opening of a hybrid option from September 1 and asked the lawyers to select between virtual and physical hearings, according to a Supreme Court’s notification.
New Delhi [India], August 29 : The physical hearings are to be conducted in adherence with the Standard Operating Procedures while conducting the physical hearing, further stated the notification. “With a view to gradually facilitate the resumption of the physical hearing, the final hearing/regular matters listed on non-miscellaneous days may be heard in the physical mode (with hybrid option), as may be decided by the Bench, considering the number of parties in a matter as well as the limited capacity of the Courtrooms,” said the notification.
All other matters, including those listed on miscellaneous days, shall continue to be heard through video/teleconferencing mode. At the discretion of the Bench, there may be a break(s) during the hearings in Courtroom in physical mode, for a period of about 15 minutes, so that Courtroom may be sanitized, during which it is necessary that the entire Courtroom be vacated, said the notification.
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) has passed a number of directions with regard to starting physical hearings in a restricted manner clubbing with strictly adhering to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with respect to Covid-19 protocols, further stated the notification.
The CJI passed the order after he was being requested and received many letters from the Bar Associations, lawyers, and on recommendations of the Judges Committee to start physical hearings in a restricted manner, as per the notification.
“Unless otherwise directed by the Bench, final hearing/regular matters where the number of advocates for the parties is more than the average working capacity of the Courtrooms, as per Covid-19 norms, i.e. 20 matters (approx.), per Courtroom at any given time, shall invariably be listed for hearing through video/teleconferencing mode,” the notification said.
However, in case the Bench directed the hearing of such matters to be held through the physical mode, the appearance of the parties, whether by physical presence or through video/teleconferencing, will be facilitated as per the directions of the Bench, it said.
In a matter listed for physical hearing (with hybrid option), one AOR [or his nominee], one Arguing Counsel, and one Junior Counsel per party will be allowed entry; one registered Clerk per party, as may be chosen by the AOR, shall be allowed entry to carry paper books/journals, etc. of the Counsels up to the Court-rooms, the SC’s Circular said.
In any such matter as may be listed for physical hearing (with hybrid option), all the Counsel appearing for one party can appear either through physical mode or through video/teleconferencing. Advocate(s)-on-Record (AORs) are required to register themselves on the Supreme Court portal, and submit their preferences for appearing before the Court either through physical mode or through video/teleconferencing mode within 24 hours/1:00 PM next day, as the case may be, after the publication of the weekly list of final hearing/ regular matters, it said.
Once hearing through physical mode is opted by the AOR/petitioner-in-person, hearing through video/teleconferencing mode to the party concerned will not be facilitated, it said.
The Entry of the counsel/parties into the HSZ (High-Security Zones) to appear for physical hearing will be through daily “Special hearing passes” which will be issued by the Registry, on the basis of authorization by the concerned AOR on the portal, the apex court’s circular said. (