The outbreak of COVID-19ï¿½ and the nationwide lockdown has forced the Supreme
Court and High Courts to resort to virtual court hearings. While a complete
shut-down of the judiciary is undesirable, and that access to justice and
judicial review is so fundamental that solutions have to be found, such a step
is required to be taken, while also ensuring that free and fair trials are not
Cases are being heard in full-swing at the Supreme Court. The Court has ensured
that it has the necessary IT infrastructure in place to ensure smooth
functioning of the court proceedings. Court hearings, through
video-conferencing, so far, have been conducted seamlessly.
Use of Information Technology is the way forward. With technology being
integrated in almost all aspects of our lives, it is only a matter of time
before the courts adopt this for time to come. This will change the functioning
of the courts, help deliver quick relief to litigants. Quick delivery,
convenience, and paperless operation are key to improve the performance of court
system in India.
Virtual Courts provide a tremendous amount of benefits:
- They provide an opportunity for lawyers to argue from anywhere. Lawyers
and parties spread across in different states, and even countries, can file
cases and argue their case from the comfort of their home. This provides the
dual benefits of cost saving and time saving.
- Cases can be heard from several High Courts in a single day. A lawyer
can argue in the Gujarat High Court in the morning, and be present for a
case in the Delhi High Court later in the day. This is not possible with
physical court hearings.
- Virtual Court system leads to greater productivity. Justice Chandrachud
says, The work of 20 judges is now being handled by one judge. It enables a
wider participation of advocates and judges.
- As information is available on a real time basis, digital signing of
orders ensures smooth and instant communication of bail orders.
However, the Supreme Court Advocates-on Record Association, the Supreme Court
Bar Association and the Bar Council of India have been repeatedly expressing
their concerns, stating that lawyers are uncomfortable with virtual hearings,
and cannot effectively present their arguments. The ability to understand and
communicate with the bench and retrieve information is another challenge to be
addressed. It is being urged to resume physical court proceedings.
The quality of technology, of sound and picture, has to be good, so as to ensure
minimal disruption and an uninterrupted flow. Smooth communication ensures
better understanding of arguments which has a direct outcome on the case.
Accountability and transparency are also a factor to be taken into
consideration. Unless proceedings are held in camera, court proceedings are to
be conducted in front of the public. Giving access to the public of the live
hearings is another factor that has to be taken into account.
Court procedures will undergo a radical change with the introduction of virtual
courts post-COVID. Judges and lawyers will have to be trained in the new style
of e-filings, proceedings and other aspects.
It seems unlikely that there will be a complete shift to a virtual court system.
The integration should be a slow and gradual process, replacing court procedures
in manageable chunks.
But virtual court hearings will not replace or be a substitute to physical
says Justice Chandrachud.
I want to dissuade people from the idea that virtual court hearings are some
sort of a panacea. They will not be able to replace physical court hearings. We
had to resort to virtual court hearings because Covid-19 descended without
warning and we had no other choice.
It definitely involves a change in culture, shifting the status quo to an
altogether new system.
The Supreme Court could opt for a combination of physical and virtual court
system. This would enable the courts to take advantage of the best of both
worlds ï¿½ saving costs, time and increasing efficiency, while also ensuring