The Delhi High Court Bar Association has written a letter to the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court seeking resumption of physical court hearings.
The letter has been signed under the hand of Advocate Abhijat Bal, Secretary of DHCBA and states that since "virtually all sectors have gradually opened including the private and government officers, market places and even shopping malls etc." with strict adherence to social distancing norms and other SOPs, there is "an urgent and pressing need to resume physical hearings in the High Court of Delhi which have been suspended for nearly 120 days now"
Citing recent development indicating enormous mental and economic strain that lawyers are under due to the continued suspension of physical courts and restriction of hearings only through Video Conferencing of urgent matters, the letter states that the suspension of physical hearings cannot continue at the cost of livelihood of a vast majority of lawyers.
"The grim psychological and economic impact of suspension of physical Courts has to be considered and every possible attempt to restore normalcy needs to be made. The same in in keeping with the police of the Central and State Government which have by issuance of unlock guidelines, provided for a gradual return to normalcy in all sector and courts cannot continue to be the exception at the cost of the livelihood for a vast majority of lawyers"
In light of this, the Bar Association bats for giving way to a "hybrid system" in keeping with the un-lockdown guidelines.
Subsequently, the letter states that restricting Court proceedings and the judicial system to the video conferencing only comes with its "inherent limitations" which has led to a backlog of pending cases and many sub-judice matters have been in a state of suspension for 4 months now, "thereby retarding the efficiency of the justice dispensation system".
Another facet which needs to be addressed is the Rule of Law which is effectuated by open-court hearings, the letter states, adding that the virtual system comes with its limitations, thereby disturbing "this delicate equilibrium on which our Constitution was drafted".
Outlining aspects of lack of facilities which range from technological advancement for lawyers and high-speed internet connectivity, DHCBA has stated that virtual hearings not only render hearing ineffective but also do not do justice to "the art of advocacy". Other aspects include lack of coordination and cooperation between briefing and arguing counsel and wasting of precious judicial time and the importance of conducting trials, which has several pitfalls through virtual mode.
"Another factor factor which makes resumption of physical courts imperative is conducting of trials. Several jurists have gone on record to say that holding of trials through video conferencing would have several pitfalls and could be a tool for misuse in the hands of unscrupulous litigants. The whole purpose of cross-examination would be defeated..."
Thus, batting for resumption of physical courts in a graded manner, the DHCBA has laid down suggestions (not exhaustive) that the CJ may take into account:
1) Resumption may resume initially with limited number of benches first;
2) Adoption of fixed time-slot for a few matters that may well be listed for physical hearings and restrictions on entry into lobby/waiting areas of Court premises;
3) To start with limited fresh non-urgent matters per court listed each day;
4) Adoption of SOPs with regards to Social Distancing and norms to be followed in courts which may be widely circulated through the website.
In light of this, the DHCBA states that it "assures its co-operation in circulating the same through email and SMS as also on the social media".
The letter further has further attached an Annexure for additional SOPs which include restrictions of entry to Court buildings only for advocates and their Clerks having their cases listed on that particular day/slot, thermal scanners deployment, social distance markings, regular sanitisation of court premises, closure of Canteen and main cafeteria initially as well as substantially reducing seating capacity.