New Delhi, April 22: The Delhi High Court has constituted a committee, headed its judge, to create a “graded action plan” for dealing with the challenges, including “a deluge of fresh cases”, to be faced by it and the trial courts after the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus is withdrawn.
The high court said normalcy is not likely to return overnight and the court functioning can be resumed only in a structured or phased manner which would require formulation of a plan in advance keeping in mind social distancing norms and other restrictions, NDTV reported.
In a letter to all the district and sessions court judges as also principal judges (family court), the high court said that post-withdrawal of the lockdown there would be an imminent requirement to put in place a “phased / graded restoration to normalcy plan” for courts in Delhi for which various issues need to be addressed.
The letter said it may not be practicable to open the courts for everyone immediately after the lockdown is lifted as there are over eight lakh cases pending in the district courts here and around 80,000 in the high court.
Delhi High Court Chief Justice DN Patel has constituted a committee, headed by Justice Hima Kohli, for creating a “Graded Action-Plan” to meet all such challenges and other ancillary issues considering the urgency of the situation.
The April 21 letter, issued by Registrar General Manoj Jain, has asked the district judges to take inputs from their bar associations and send the suggestions to the high court within a week.
Following the lockdown, the functioning of the high court and trial courts have been suspended till May 3 and only the matters of extreme urgency are being heard through video conferencing.
“During such suspension of functioning, the hearing of the cases is limited to matters of extremely urgent nature or urgent nature. There has been negligible filing of fresh cases during the lockdown, it can be thus expected that there would be a deluge of fresh cases on return to normalcy which may be quite difficult to handle. All these problems pose a big challenge to the justice delivery system,” the letter stated.
It further said that at this juncture, it may not be possible to predict a definite cut-off date for resumption of normal functioning of the court system as there is no certainty when the threat of the pandemic would be over and the requirement of social distancing would no longer be necessary.
For the preparation of such a plan for the high court and trial courts, several issues are required to be addressed, including gradual expansion of the nature of cases to be put in ”urgent” category for hearing, ensuring availability of proportionate court infrastructure during all these phases till restoration of complete normalcy.
The other issues highlighted by the high court are: making guidelines for restricting entry into courts; social distancing norms to be followed for all the stakeholders including Judges, court staff, lawyers and litigants; preparing guidelines for restricting entry into lawyers” chambers and social distancing norms to be followed in such areas.
“Running of public utility services and canteen etc. in court complexes. Availability of Infrared Thermometer, Masks, gloves, sanitisers for all the stakeholders. Installation of sensor-based devices, wherever possible to ensure minimum hand-contact. Appropriate alternate to centralised air-conditioning system,” the letter stated.
Further the issues to be discussed are on putting in place a mechanism for handling the deluge of fresh filing of cases once the suspension of functioning of courts is withdrawn, creation of well-equipped permanent video conferencing courts.
The suggestions are also sought on the provision for e-issuance and e-service of court notices and summons, filing of e-pleadings and recording of evidence through video conferencing.
The letter further said: “Graded plan for resumption of work of registry in the high court and courts subordinate thereto for taking care of urgent administrative issues such as presence of required support staff for proper functioning of courts, recruitment process of judicial officers and staff and disciplinary proceedings.
“Manner of resumption of training in Delhi Judicial Academy to conclude the Induction training to enable more officers to be available for taking care of the problem of mounting arrears.”
The other issues are on the resumption of activities of the Delhi Legal Services Authority, Mediation Centre, Arbitration Centre to help restore normalcy in the functioning of the court system and creating a mixed model of ”virtual courts and actual courts” and running court in shifts to ensure least footfall at any given point of time.
As the number of pending cases is huge, the footfall in the courts would be enormous, once the lockdown is lifted and also because of suspended functioning of the courts, most of the matters could not be filed by many advocates and litigants.
“Therefore, the moment courts are thrown open, it would be difficult to control the rush for the purposes of ensuring all important and crucial aspects related to social-distancing. Obviously, the courts cannot be converted into hotspots,” it said.