New Delhi, February 20: The Supreme Court judges have informally told Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde that they are agreeable to hold physical court hearings of cases.
The judges have left it to Chief Justice Bobde to take the final decision.
The virtual system of hearings in the apex court was initiated during the end of March last year to provide access to justice even during the lockdown and pandemic restrictions.
In what may be the first indications of the court leaning towards resuming physical hearings, a Virtual Bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi agreed with a lawyer’s plea for physical hearing of his case, a civil appeal, in the first week of March, The Hindu reported.
The Bench, in the appeal titled Sabir Hussain versus Syed Mohammad Hassan noted in its February 18 order that “learned counsel for the appellant submits that they would like a physical hearing. Post the matter for physical hearing in the first week of March, 2021”.
On January 28, the Supreme Court issued a statement that though the infection was a major and unprecedented challenge, 1,998 Benches had held 43,713 hearings through video conferencing till December 31 notwithstanding technological constraints, pandemic protocol and reduced workforce.
The court had worked in spite of the lockdown and much beyond the usual minimum of 190 days of sittings in a calendar year.
But the virtual court system has not been without its critics, that too, from within the Supreme Court judiciary. A Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul had recorded its “exasperation” about the frequent disconnections and interruptions.
Lately, lawyers have pushed for the resumption of physical court hearings.
Senior Bar leaders like Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, senior advocate Vikas Singh, office-bearers of the Bar Council of India (BCI) led by its chairman, senior advocate Manan Kumar Mishra, apex court lawyers’ bodies like the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association and the Supreme Court Bar Association had met Chief Justice Bobde to discuss the issue.
A BCI release recently had referred to the CJI saying the judges were willing to resume physical hearings but there were medical and technical issues involved.
Recently, Singh and other lawyers had staged an agitation for the complete resumption of physical hearings in the apex court. They said lawyers were distressed by the video conferencing system.
Mishra had also referred to the court considering a hybrid system — both physical and virtual — till the pandemic was over.