How Indian Courts Are Adapting In The Times Of Covid-19
Cameras lined up outside the Supreme Court of India. (Source: PTI)

How Indian Courts Are Adapting In The Times Of Covid-19

The Supreme Court of India wore a different look today, with the number of lawyers, litigants and other people visiting it reduced drastically following restrictions imposed in the wake of a government advisory on containing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Here’s how the courts in India are modifying schedules and functioning to deal with the virus that has so far claimed two lives in India and sent multiple countries into a lockdown.

Supreme Court

The apex court has decided to hear only cases that require urgent hearing and has restricted the entry of casual visitors. Public tours of the court have been adjourned and its canteens have been shut. Visitors today were subjected to thermal screening and were also asked to fill self-declaratory forms.

The court has asked lawyers and other staff members to vacate the premises for sanitisation after 6 p.m. everyday. It has also announced that lawyers needing adjournment in their cases can write to them requesting the same.

The Supreme Court will shortly introduce the facility of court proceedings over video conferencing. It plans to allow separate rooms for lawyers to argue their cases over video-conferencing from within the premises. The court will also be introducing an app to allow lawyers to join the proceedings from their offices.

Journalists will be allowed to view these proceedings from smart TVs installed in the press lounge for Supreme Court reporters. The team looking into these proposals is headed by Justice DY Chandrachud who heads the e-committee of the top court.

The Supreme Court will be meeting tomorrow to discuss these proposals with the representatives of its bar.

Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court has decided to hear only urgent cases and this order also covers its Nagpur, Aurangabad and Goa benches.

The court has also requested the bar to cooperate in restricting entry for only those whose presence is required for official purposes. Lawyers have been requested to inform the registry if they need their cases to be listed urgently from the day’s court list and all other cases will get an automatic adjournment.

The high court has also directed the district courts in Maharashtra not to insist on personal appearance of the parties unless it’s absolutely necessary.

It has also asked district courts to not pass any adverse orders if a party is absent in court for the time being. Unnecessary crowding of lock-ups in court must be avoided and courts should not seek personal appearance of the parties unless it’s unavoidable, the high court said.

Securities Appellate Tribunal

The Securities Appellate Tribunal has also limited itself to hearing only urgent cases and has restricted entry in the courtroom to only lawyers, chartered accountants and one representative of the litigants.

For adjournments, lawyers have been asked to write to the registry of the tribunal before 9:30 a.m. each day and then it will be placed before the bench on the same day. The counsels have been told that they needn’t visit the court premises to seek an adjournment.

These restrictions will be in place till March 27 and can be further extended.

The tribunal has also changed its work timings to 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and has asked staff to come by 11:30 a.m. instead of the usual 9:30 a.m. to avoid rush-hour traffic.

Delhi High Court

Functioning of the Delhi High Court will stand restricted until March 20 when the court will draw up a new roster for the judges which will take up only urgent cases.

The High Court registry will draw up the cases that need urgent listing and only those cases will be taken up by the court on an emergent basis.

The high court has also asked district courts to only take up those cases that involve granting bail. The courts have also been directed to dispose with the requirement of personal presence of convicts and do so over video conferencing when it’s absolutely unavoidable.

The next meeting to review the situation will take place on March 20.

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