CJI seeks response from High Courts and Tribunals on functioning of virtual courts post COVID

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Virtual hearings commenced in courts across the country with the arrival of COVID-19, however, the Supreme Court made it a permanent feature as a part of their e-courts endeavour 

Chief Justice of India today issued notice to all High Court across the country, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking a response from them over the functioning of video conferencing facilities.

Is the hybrid mode still functioning or has the virtual conferencing facility been disbanded fully, a CJI DY Chandrachud led bench remarked today.

This response has been sought in a plea moved by one Sarvesh, against the Punjab and Haryana High Court completely shutting down its virtual court facilities.

When the petitioner-in-person appeared before Court, the CJI thanked him for flagging this issue and went on to issue notices to all High Courts at first.

Court has also issued notice to the Union Ministries and requested the assistance of the Solicitor General of India regarding DRTs and other tribunals which come under various Ministries.

Notably, in 2021, the Supreme Court had issued notice to the Central Government, four High Courts, the Bar Council of India (BCI) and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on a writ petition seeking a declaration that the right to participate in court proceedings via video conference is a fundamental right.

The plea was filed specifically challenging the Aug 16 notification issued by the Uttarakhand High Court to revert to full physical functioning from Aug 24 to the exclusion of virtual mode of hearing cases completely.

It also sought a direction restraining all High Courts from denying access to lawyers through the virtual mode of hearing on the ground of availability of the option of physical hearing.

The plea filed through Advocate Sriram Parakkat and drawn by Advocates Siddharth R Gupta and Prerna Robin stated that Uttarakhand High Court’s concerned notification is a death knell for justice, because as observed by the E-Committee of Supreme Court, the very idea of virtual courts is an accessible, affordable justice in the country.

Case Title: Sarvesh Mathur vs. The Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court