"This Virtual Court is a boon to the entire Legal Fraternity", observed the Madras High Court on Thursday.
Justice B. Pugalendhi, of the Madurai Seat, was faced with objection from an advocate regarding the listing of cases for final hearing via video conferencing.
"Fortunately in Tamil Nadu, we are having good internet connectivity facility in almost all places, including some remote villages", asserted the Single Judge.
The bench proceeded to state that in fact, in the past two months, this Court has also witnessed Counsel representing their cases sitting in Car. Even while travelling in their Car, Counsel are comfortable in placing their cases before the Court. Counsel, who are interested in their cases, even if they are staying in remote places, are reaching out to a place where they are having connectivity and are presenting their case comfortably. "When this system of Virtual Courts are comfortable for admission for the learned Counsel, this Court fails to understand why it is difficult for them to conduct the final hearing cases", wondered the Single Bench.
Justice Pugalendhi informed the counsel that in the month of July, 2020 alone, his Court has disposed of 44 cases(Criminal Revision Cases – 21; Criminal Appeals – 10; Criminal Original Petitions – 10; Writ Petitions – 3). Further, not only this Court, but in the entire Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, 5020 cases (including 1971 Miscellaneous Petitions) were filed in the month of July, 2020 alone, of which, 4832 cases (including 1929 Miscellaneous Petitions) were heard and disposed, via virtual court hearings.
"Even a Mofussil Advocate residing in a remote village in Kanyakumari can comfortably present his case before this Court, the Principal Seat and even before the Hon'ble Supreme Court", the bench continued to state.
The Single Judge recounted how in another writ petition, he, Justice Pugalendhi, sitting along with Justice P.N.Prakash, heard a final hearing matter from 11.20 am to 7.30 pm, taking a break of half an hour for lunch. The Senior Counsel sitting in their offices at Chennai, comfortably presented their cases before the Division Bench at Madurai and the Division Bench, heard the matter in full and disposed of the same.
"This Court is not for the respondents alone, but is also having a duty towards the petitioner, who knocked the doors of the Court in the year 2016 and waiting for Justice for the past four years", pressed the Single Bench.
When the counsel made a further allegation that when the Criminal Appeals of the year 2014 are still pending, what is the urgency for this Court to take up this Criminal Appeal filed in the year 2017, the bench made clear that this Court is taking up the matters only on chronological basis and this appeal was also listed for hearing pursuant to the orders of the Administrative Judge.
"It is because of the respective Counsel, who are taking time by one way or other and for having shown indulgence in certain appeals, we are facing the allegation that we are not disposing the cases", said the bench.
Justice Pugalendhi referred to an article published in the Media that a Member of Bar at Sattur is selling Tea, since the Courts are not functioning. Reiterating the disposal statistics of the Court, the bench said that all the Magistrate Courts in the State are also functioning through virtual hearing and therefore, it is not the case that Courts are sitting idle, shutting the doors.
"In fact, the notification in No.142, dated 13.07.2020 (of the Registry to the effect that final hearing cases will not be taken up), was made only pursuant to the representations from the Members of the Bar, expressing certain practical difficulties", said the bench.
'Judges, not sitting in Ivory Towers, uninclined to take up cases'
Justice Pugalendhi stressed that even though the Media has published the news item that a member of the Bar was driven to an extent of selling Tea due to the non-functioning of the Courts, none of the associations who have made the request before the Chief Justice that the final hearing matters shall not be taken for hearing, has come to the rescue of the Court. "But, in contrary, they are participating in debates, tarnishing the image of this Institution that the Judges, sitting in Ivory Towers, are not inclined to conduct the cases", commented the bench.
In fact, the court declared that the decision to conduct the Courts through virtual hearing has been made by the Administrative Committee, taking into consideration of the welfare of all the stakeholders, including, Advocates, Litigants, Staff, etc., and this system of virtual hearing is proved to be success and the number of filing and disposal made in the last month alone is a proof for the same.
Narrating how the respondent-accused in the instant case have been adopting dilatory tactics by first, seeking recusal of the Single Judge on two occasions, for having appeared in connected matters as a government counsel, and now, refusing for a final hearing, Justice Pugalendhi remarked "this case itself is a glaring example as to how the cases are being dragged on by the parties, who are enjoying favorable orders in their favour".
'Argue, or the Court shall proceed under section 386, Cr. P. C.'
In view of the consistent attitude shown on behalf of the respondents / accused in not proceeding with the appeal by changing the Counsel, making allegations against the Court for taking up the matter, the Single Judge referred to the Powers of an Appellate Court as in Section 386 Cr.P.C.
"It is the legal obligation on the part of this Court, as per Section 386 Cr.P.C., to proceed with the appeal based on the papers placed before the Court without expecting for the appearance of the appellant or the respondent. If they appear, this Court would definitely hear them, but, if they do not choose to appear, the Courts are not supposed to wait for their submissions", asserted the bench
Justice Pugalendhi narrated how, in a criminal appeal filed by CBI, the CBI has taken several adjournments and in that proceedings, a Division Bench of this Court, where the Single Judge was a party to the Bench, has passed an order appointing an Advocate in the place of the Special Public Prosecutor for CBI and taken up the hearing in that appeal. Only then, the learned Special Public Prosecutor for CBI came forward and proceeded with the case.
"In this case also, though the appeal has been filed by the State, even the State has not come forward to conduct the appeal. Therefore, this Court is inclined to provide one more opportunity. Post this matter on 07.08.2020, for orders. It is made clear that if the parties fail to make their arguments, this Court would not hesitate to proceed further as contemplated under Section 386 Cr.P.C.", ordered the bench.
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