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SC lays down guidelines under Art 142 for conducting court proceedings through video conferencing.

Supreme Court of India

Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud & Justice L. Nageswara Rao 

The SC on April 06, 2020 {IN RE : GUIDELINES FOR COURT FUNCTIONING THROUGH VIDEO CONFERENCING DURING COVID 19 PANDEMIC} in suo motu writ petition allowed court proceedings through video conferencing, and had laid down following guidelines in furtherance thereof:

"6. Therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred on the Supreme Court of India by Article 142 of the Constitution of India to make such orders as are necessary for doing complete justice, we direct that:

i. All measures that have been and shall be taken by this Court and by the High Courts, to reduce the need for the physical presence of all stakeholders within court premises and to secure the functioning of courts in consonance with social distancing guidelines and best public health practices shall be deemed to be lawful;

ii. The Supreme Court of India and all High Courts are authorized to adopt measures required to ensure the robust functioning of the judicial system through the use of video conferencing technologies; and

iii. Consistent with the peculiarities of the judicial system in every state and the dynamically developing public health situation, every High Court is authorised to determine the modalities which are suitable to the temporary transition to the use of video conferencing technologies;

iv. The concerned courts shall maintain a helpline to ensure that any complaint in regard to the quality or audibility of feed shall be communicated during the proceeding or immediately after its conclusion failing which no grievance in regard to it shall be entertained thereafter.

v. The District Courts in each State shall adopt the mode of Video Conferencing prescribed by the concerned High Court.

vi. The Court shall duly notify and make available the facilities for video conferencing for such litigants who do not have the means or access to video conferencing facilities. If necessary, in appropriate cases courts may appoint an amicus-curiae and make video conferencing facilities available to such an advocate.

vii. Until appropriate rules are framed by the High Courts, video conferencing shall be mainly employed for hearing arguments whether at the trial stage or at the appellate stage. In no case shall evidence be recorded without the mutual consent of both the parties by video conferencing. If it is necessary to record evidence in a Court room the presiding officer shall ensure that appropriate distance is maintained between any two individuals in the Court.

viii. The presiding officer shall have the power to restrict entry of persons into the court room or the points from which the arguments are addressed by the advocates. No presiding officer shall prevent the entry of a party to the case unless such party is suffering from any infectious illness. However, where the number of litigants are many the presiding officer shall have the power to restrict the numbers. The presiding officer shall in his discretion adjourn the proceedings where it is not possible to restrict the number."

It was held that faced with the unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic, it is necessary that Courts at all levels respond to the call of social distancing and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of virus. It was also held that this is not a matter of discretion but of duty.

It was also held that the use of technology found judicial recognition in precedent of the SC in State of Maharashtra v Praful Desai {(2003) 4 SCC 601}. The SC held therein that the term ‘evidence’ includes electronic evidence and that video conferencing may be used to record evidence. It was observed that developments in technology have opened up the possibility of virtual courts which are similar to physical courts.

It was also held that access to justice is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India. Accordingly those guidelines were laid down by the SC in view of spread of Covid-19 virus, and to mitigate its further spread and at the same time to provide access to justice by way of video conferencing. 

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