The Supreme Court on Friday called for a report and minutes of meeting from its Secretary-General on the issue of commencing of the hybrid mode of hearing from March 15.
A Bench headed by Justice SK Kaul sought a report and minutes of the meeting after Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Vikas Singh claimed that Bar members were not consulted before a decision was taken for hybrid hearings.
The Bench posted the matter for hearing on March 16.
Expressing reservation in allowing full-fledged physical hearing in the court, Justice Kaul said that there has been a spike in the number of covid-19 cases in the country as per newspaper reports.
"You (SCBA) are saying SOP was designed without consulting Bar. Let us ask the registry to place minutes of the meeting," said the Bench.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh contended that the convenience of some cannot overpower the convenience of others and judges come from a completely sterile route.
Singh pleaded the court to start a physical hearing as many lawyers are "starving" as they are virtually daily wage earners and many of them not earning in the last one year.
He further argued that "I may be finding it convenient, some law firms may be finding it convenient. But, the average lawyer or the average client may not be placed similarly. COVID-19 is not today killing people. Lawyers are basically daily wagers now. They are also diligent. I don't want people to die of starvation."
The plea of SCBA sought quashing the SOP for hybrid physical hearing before the Court issued by the Registry on March 5 claiming it was issued without consulting the Bar. It requested the court to direct the Registry not to issue any circular without consulting the Bar."
The plea said SOP issued without consulting the Bar even though Bar is an equal stakeholder in the dispensation of the justice delivery system and the suggestions given by the Bar ought to have been taken into consideration.
"There is a general feeling in the Bar that for the last few years Registry has been issuing Circulars without taking the Bar into confidence even though the circulars issued directly affects the lawyers practising before this Court. In the meeting of the Executive Committee of the SCBA with the Chief Justice of India on March 1, 2021, regarding the physical/hybrid hearing it was assured that the needful would be done by the Registry expeditiously taking into consideration the suggestions given by the Executive Committee, however, the SOP dated March 5, 2021, has been issued unilaterally by the Registry," the plea added.
The Supreme Court has decided to begin a hybrid mode of hearing (physical and virtual) on an experimental basis from March 15. Supreme Court said a pilot basis final hearing/regular matters listed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays will be heard through hybrid mode.
The Secretary-General of the Supreme Court in a circular issued on March 5 has said that the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde has issued some directions on commencing of the hybrid mode of hearing in the apex court.
"On an experimental basis, and as a pilot scheme, the final hearing/regular matters listed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays may be heard in the hybrid mode, as may be decided by the Bench, considering the number of parties in a matter as well as the limited capacity of the Court rooms; all other matters, including those listed on Mondays and Fridays shall continue to be heard through video/tele-conferencing mode," the circular said.
Unless otherwise directed by the Bench, final hearing/regular matters where the number of advocates for the parties are more than the average working capacity of the Court rooms, as per Covid-19 norms, i.e. 20 per Courtroom at any given time, shall invariably be listed for hearing through video/tele-conferencing mode, it further added.
The circular said, "If in a matter listed for hybrid hearing, the number of parties is more, then Advocate on Record (AOR) and one arguing counsel per party will be allowed entry; one registered clerk per party, as may be chosen by the AOR, shall be allowed entry to carry paper-books/journals etc. of the counsels upto the Court-rooms."
It said that in hybrid hearing, all the counsels appearing for one party can appear either through physical presence or through video/tele-conferencing.
The circular further said that wearing of a mask, frequent use of hand stiser and maintaining physical distancing norms is mandatory for all entrants into the Supreme Court premises, including into the Court-rooms.
Supreme Court has been hearing cases through video-conference mode for almost a year following the nation-wide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
( With inputs from ANI )
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