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Quiet Crusaders: How The Court Masters Of The Delhi HC Made Virtual Hearings A Success

Karan Tripathi
31 Aug 2020 3:39 PM GMT
Quiet Crusaders: How The Court Masters Of The Delhi HC Made Virtual Hearings A Success
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As the COVID19 pandemic dawned upon us, various institutions decided to either alter their functioning or halt completely. As the wheels of justice must carry on, the Delhi High Court decided to adopt a new model of conducting proceedings in order to address the rising number of cases during the nationwide lockdown: video conferencing. A plan was created by the Information Technology Committee of the High Court laying down the procedure to conduct virtual hearings, and the same was approved by the Administrative Committee to take up matters of urgent concern through video-conferencing.

As per the latest information, a total of 3787 cases were taken up by the High Court during the lockdown period. As the time progressed, the court became more accustomed to the new procedure, and subsequently decided to work with the full capacity and take up all kinds of matters through video-conferencing. While much is written about the court-room exchanges and how the judges and the lawyers engaged with the new technology, there's dearth of acknowledgement for the instrumentality of the ones that made sure that the whole procedure is carried out as seamlessly as possible - court masters.

I was informed by one of the court masters that due to the virtual hearings their working hours have been extended exponentially. Earlier, they had a shift of 8-9 hours, starting from 10am and ending at 6 in the evening. However, due to the virtual hearings, the said shift not only got advanced to 9 am but also got extended till 11 pm.

Extended working hours is not the only challenge that the court masters were faced with. The real trouble, and probably the most unfair, were the untimely calls and messages of the advocates and other interested parties wanting to attend the hearings. Despite the clear instructions, court masters were troubled both during after their work hours, and in some cases even on holidays, by these 'urgent calls' demanding 'VC links'.

The court masters are tasked to provide VC links to all those who are interested in attending the virtual hearings. However, the same is supposed to be done during a specific period during the day. This norm was disregarded many times by lawyers and litigants alike; but their demands were still adhered to by the court masters.

'We are working day and night but we're not complaining. This work is important for the justice to carry on. We have to adapt to the new situation', one of the court masters shared with me during a candid conversation.

Despite getting multiple demands for the VC links, the same were supplied in time and without fail. In many cases, the court masters also did follow-ups with the lawyers to ensure that they are present before the court for their matter.

Another malpractice that troubled the court masters was the last minute supply of documents by the parties. I have lost count of cases where the affidavit or a reply was submitted to the court master just minutes before the scheduled hearing, hoping for it to be placed on record 'in time'. This malpractice was duly addressed by the judges as they pulled up the counsel for late supply of documents.

`We won't allow you to submit an affidavit just a few hours before the hearing. This practice needs to stop', Justice Hima said while rapping a counsel.

These are only those troubles that were apparent to me as an independent observer of this whole mechanism. There are definitely more challenges, both personal and professional, that the court masters had to overcome to ensure the smooth functioning of the virtual hearings. And for this effort, and relentless hard work, they must be acknowledged and regarded.

List of Court Masters at the Delhi High Court:

Mr Vijay Rattan Saundriyal

Mr Vishal

Mr Sanjoy Kumar Ojha

Ms Uma Sharma

Mr Dilip Bajaj

Mr Lokpal Singh

Mr Nikhil Tiwari

Mr Pankaj Vats

Mr Vipin Sharma

Mr Pradeep Kumar

Mr Shyam Kumar

Mr Nandan Singh

Mr Javed Khan

Ms Suman Chawla

Mr Ajai Kumar Rana

Ms Pooja Suryavanshi

Mr Shambhu Sharma

Mr Bharat Gulati

Mr Rajesh Malhotra

Ms Saphalta Bhati

Mr Dharmender Joshi

Ms Mridula Sharma

Mr KK Agnihotri

Mr Manmohan Mehra

Mr Praveen Kumar

Mr Anil Kumar Chopra

Mr Rajesh

Mr Vineet Kumar Garg

Mr Bhupender Kumar

Mr Sandeep Sharma

Mr Ajay Kumar Mavi

Mr Vijay Pal Singh

Mr Kamal

Mr Pankaj Goel

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