New Delhi, June 2: Nearly 95 per cent of the lawyers are not comfortable with virtual court hearings, the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) told Chief Justice of India (CJI), SA Bobde on Tuesday. The body of lawyers said that video hearings posed a major deterrent to present cases effectively.

The SCAORA, body of lawyers eligible to file cases in the Supreme Court, urged the CJI to commence physical court hearings at the Supreme Court from July, The Hindustan Times reported.

“Most lawyers (almost 95%) are not comfortable with the virtual court hearings. The common feedback seems to be that the lawyers are unable to present their cases effectively in the virtual medium and the same is acting as a major deterrent for lawyers to consent for such virtual hearings,” the SCAORA said in a letter addressed to the CJI through its president, Shivaji M Jadhav.

The court, after receiving such requests from various quarters, agreed to consider the feasibility of allowing physical appearance of advocates while adhering to social distancing norms. A notice to that effect was issued on Tuesday evening.

All the advocates involved in a case should give their consent for physical hearing for a case to be listed in open court, the notice said.

“Only on receipt of consent of all the parties to that effect, the matter will be considered for listing before the hon’ble court, subject to availability of the bench”, the notice issued by the court stated.

The apex court started hearing cases through video conferencing on March 23, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

The top court also issued a circular on March 23, suspending entry of lawyers and litigants to the court premises. It said only extremely urgent cases will be taken up for hearing through video conferencing during the lockdown period.

The hearing in the top court is conducted through ‘Vidyo app’, which can be downloaded on mobile phones and computers. The platform is hosted on the servers of the National Data Centre of National Informatics Centre. While the judges on the bench join the video conference from the residence of one of the judges, the lawyers join from their respective houses.

“In matters involving several parties and appearances by many lawyers, not all lawyers are given a chance to speak and sometimes their mics are put on mute by the coordinator as a result of which their matters get heard in their absence. There are problems with audio and video quality of hearings, which results in the lawyers not being able to effectively put forth their arguments,” SCAORA said in its letter.

The SCAORA, while acknowledging the work done by the court during the lockdown period, pointed out that many lawyers are not well equipped with knowledge of the use of computers and are, hence, unable to participate in the hearings effectively.

“Many a time, when a Senior Advocate or arguing Counsel appears, he/she is left to appear on their own. The AOR/briefing lawyer is unable to assist them effectively in this virtual medium,” the letter added.

The bar body also highlighted the difficulties faced by lawyers due to staggered working of courts for the past 3 months. The number of cases which are being heard by courts, including the Supreme Court, reduced drastically after video conference hearings were introduced.

From March 23 to May 1, the Supreme Court heard 835 cases. On a normal working day when physical hearings used to happen, the court used to hear 800 cases in a single day.

“Several lawyers have expressed their concern over to the Executive Committee of SCAORA over the loss of livelihood during the past few months. Unless the normal functioning of Courts is resumed, the said concern will not abate,” Jadhav said in the letter.

The SCAORA, therefore, requested the CJI to go back to physical court hearings from July when the court reopens after the summer break. The court is expected to shut on June 19 and go on a summer break till the first week of July.

“I, on behalf of SCAORA and thousands of lawyers, request the court to resume physical Court hearings upon re-opening in July 2020 after summer vacations. More so, in light of the announcement of the Unlock 1.0 and measures to be undertaken to resume normalcy in a phased manner,” Jadhav said.

Justice DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court judge and chairperson of the e-committee of the court, had said on May 24 that virtual court hearings will not replace or be a substitute to physical courts.

“I want to dissuade people from the idea that virtual court hearings are some sort of a panacea. They will not be able to replace physical court hearings. We had to resort to virtual court hearings because Covid-19 descended without warning and we had no other choice. We had to protect those who come to court: lawyers, litigants, media personnel, para-legal, interns,” he said at a webinar organised by Nyaya Forum of National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad.

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