New Delhi, April 28: The Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA) has suggested commencement of regular and normal court working in a phased manner with compliance of social distancing norms and wearing of masks after withdrawal of Covid-19 lockdown. 

The association gave its suggestions to a committee, constituted by the Delhi High Court, for creating a ‘graded action plan’ to meet the challenges to be faced by it and the trial courts here in the process of marching towards normal functioning after withdrawal of lockdown, PTI reported.

The high court had asked the district judges here to take inputs from the respective bar associations and send the suggestions to the committee headed by senior high court judge, Justice Hima Kohli.

DHCBA, in the letter to the committee, said the courts have to be operational not only to the extent of providing ‘urgent relief’ but also to cater to other legal remedies which may be availed by common litigants. 

It said the scope of matters that may be listed should include injunctive reliefs, bail applications, suspension of sentence, objections to arbitration awards, execution petitions, writ petitions of all types and criminal appeals.

“Access to justice is the touchstone of any democratic society, the courts are an essential part of it and do not require any declaration by the Executive to be an essential service. DHCBA believes that physical court hearings, in a phased manner, have to be commenced with meticulous and scrupulous compliance of social distancing norms, wearing of masks, maintaining the highest standards of sanitisation and hygiene etc,” it said.

It said till normalcy is restored, litigants and interns should not be permitted to access court or chamber blocks and restriction may continue on advocates representing a party.

DHCBA said the lawyers who operate from their chambers and offices need access to chambers to prepare their cases and access their files and clients’ conference may be permitted after court hours. It suggested that the shops inside the court complexes may be kept closed and and only cafeterias catering to chamber blocks may be permitted to service lawyers by offering ‘take away’ options.

The Association suggested only one entry point per court building with thermal screening and sanitisation tunnels and public conveniences must be maintained with highest level of sanitisation, keeping in mind the social distancing norms.

As District Legal Services Authority and mediation centres require physical presence of litigants, they may not be functional till normalcy is restored and arbitration proceedings can go on without presence of litigants, it said.

The high court, in its April 21 letter addressed to all the district and sessions judges and principal judges (family court) said post-withdrawal of 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 are required to be addressed.

Following the lockdown, the functioning of the high court and trial courts have been suspended till May 3 and matters of extreme urgency or urgent nature are being heard through video conferencing.

The high court’s letter said it may not be practicable to open the courts for everyone immediately after the lockdown is lifted and there are over eight lakh cases pending in the district courts here and around 80,000 in the high court.

As the number of cases are 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.

“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. 

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