SC: Virtual courts not antithetical to open court system during COVID-19

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of India

New Delhi, May 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court has said the traditional open court system and newage virtual court system is not antithetical to each other, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the latter does not crumble administration of justice.

In a statement defending its current practice of taking matters through video conferencing, the apex court said the traditional open court system, in its physical manifestation, and new age virtual court system are not antithetical to each other. “On the contrary, both systems could definitely co-exist, delivering qualitative justice, wherever deployed in light of extant circumstances”, said the court.

The apex court insisted the institutional requirement has to ensure that administration of justice does not crumble, in the face of this unprecedented scenario. Lately, the video conferencing system for taking up cases has come under criticism as it does not adhere to the concept of open courts.

The court is taking up extremely urgent matters virtually. The apex court, backing its performance during the lockdown, said it conducted a hearing on 22 days until May 1, where 116 benches assembled, which included 73 benches for adjudicating review petition. As many as 538 matters were taken up, besides 297 connected matters, said the top court.

Lawyers complained on several issues — convincing the judge of the urgency involved in the matter and arguing their case through video link.

“In view of the circumstances under the current pandemic, the Virtual Courts system cannot be said to be negating the principles of fairness that are sacrosanct to the administration of justice nor is it failing to adhere to requirements of an ‘Open Court’ system”, said the top court in its 38-page statement.

The apex court cited that many developed countries like the USA, UK and France, have already transitioned to virtual courts systems, and India is ahead of them in terms of output.

The statement cited the UK Supreme Court decided 18 cases from February 5 to April 29. And, the Supreme Court in US decided 28 cases between February 24 and April 27.

The apex court insisted that it is imperative that all the stakeholders must welcome, accept and act as per the necessities of a fair adjudicatory process before the virtual court system.

The court said adopting an open court system under circumstances where such physical manifestation would be seen to be in complete violation of universal social-distancing norms being adopted globally, by communities and nations.

“The advantages of the virtual court system, especially in terms of time, energy and money saved by the litigants and counsels in ensuring their presence before a court are innumerable and could be game-changers too”, said the apex court.

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