The country as a whole is currently undergoing a complete lockdown from 24th March mid-night today 31y, the unlock was done with restrictions and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading, normal functioning has been suspended by the Supreme Court, the High Courts and subordinate courts across the nation. The judiciary, as one of the pillars of democracy, has reacted immediately in these unprecedented times and video conferencing steps have been adopted by the Supreme Court of India to hear the matters referred to in Article 142 of the Indian Constitution, while also properly complying with social distancing norms. The courts confine themselves to hearing matters that are deemed urgent, using video conferencing and other automated means to provide minimal physical contact with litigants, lawyers and judges, as well as to minimize chaos in session.
- April 033, 2020, the chairman of the Supreme Court E-Committee, Hon'ble Justice DY Chandrachud, interacted with the Computer Committees of High Courts to review the steps taken during the lockdown to hear urgent cases promptly. It was proposed that technology use should be institutionalized even after lifting the lockout and returning to back to basics life.
- The foundation stone of The Indian Constitution 1947 is access to justice and the rule of law. Such a decision of the dispensation of justice by video conferencing was crucial to ensure each of these aspects in these difficult times. This pandemic has every sector and pillar of democracy, and everyone needs to come together for public welfare.
- The Apex Court took suo-moto cognizance upon a case on April 066, 2020, entitled "In re Guidelines for Court Functioning through Video Conferencing during COVID 19 Pandemic," which prescribed guidelines for the functioning of the Courts through videoconferencing.
- All hearings shall necessarily be suspended in the congregation. Technology has made accessibility and connectivity easier, and the Indian courts have always been proactive in technology harnessing. Furthermore, by using technology, the High Courts have now been authorized to employ social distancing measures. Each High Court is authorized to determine strategies of using videoconferencing.
- IT technology facilities for facilitating video conferencing between clients and their legal representatives have been set up in Court. Also, the e-filing facility for Justice seekers is open 24 * 7. But the major challenge to face was that in many districts courts have a lack of IT technology.
- In most district courts, the IT infrastructure currently fails or does not have the necessary machines and types of equipment for conducting the video conferencing process; The Apex court has requested that the necessary arrangements be made in the district courts concerning video conferencing, etc.The Court shall duly notify and make available video conference facilities for such litigants who do not have the means or access to video conferencing facilities. If necessary, courts may appoint amicus-curiae and start making video conferencing facilities available to such an advocate in appropriate cases.
- The SC asked HC to frame guidelines for the District Courts for video conferencing; a major drawback was that no evidence should be recorded by videoconferencing without the mutual consent of both parties.
- If evidence is to be recorded in a courtroom for the end of justice, the presiding officer shall ensure that the appropriate distance between any two individuals within the Court is maintained. But doing so increases the chances of spreading the virus.
- The presiding officer shall have the power to limit the entry of persons into the courtroom or the points from which the advocates address the arguments. No presiding officer shall prevent a party from entering the case unless that party suffers from any infectious disease.
- In Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar vs the State of Maharashtra, the Honourable Court re-established the necessity and significance of an open court principle which presumes that the public has the right to watch court proceedings, including the media, under Article 19 of the Constitution. So the recording of the proceedings can be released for the public.
- The virtual hearing is easy to conduct in the initial stage of the case. Still, a number of factors may arise, such as the cross-examination of a person, the presentation of documents and evidence, the declaration of the parties on oath, etc. All of these factors form an essential part of the court proceedings and depend on which court findings are drawn.
- There has been an intensive increase in the data consumption due to virtualization of everything. So sometimes there are connectivity issues, to overcome the issue the people in the video conference can be restricted or asked to join as soon as their need is felt.
- Virtual trials also reduce the travelling expense; less time consumption is there along with least going out of houses and the concern people can attend the trails from anywhere. It is said to liberty currently.
- In virtual trials, there has been a lack of discipline like some advocates smoked during the trial to overcome such type of indiscipline behaviour; a contempt of Court shall be punished with a heavy fine.
Digitalization has reduced human contact and is the best way to follow social distancing, but it also has its pros and cons. A trial can be conducted virtually, but then there is a lack of discipline, difficulty in connectivity, recording of evidence is also difficult. So the best thing to do is that the evidence of an urgent case should be delivered to the judge before the proceeding or must be delivered to the person authorized by the Court to do so.