Several courts, including the Supreme Court, have started hearing urgent matters on video conferencing given the need for social distancing following the rapid spread of the coronavirus, but JusticeGS Patel took it to another level at the Bombay High Court by using popular video-conferencing software Zoom to create a virtual court with lawyers and audience as well.
Bombay HC Chief Justice Bhushan P Dharmadhikari on April 1 had nominated Justice Gautam S Patel to hear extremely urgent civil and criminal matters through video-conferencing between April 8 to April 14.
How it went down?
In a first at the Bombay High Court, at least 500 participants, along with lawyers, court staff, law students and journalists, joined a live-streaming virtual courtroom on an experimental basis.Justice GS Patel heard relief sought by student debarred from college for smoking cannabis in campus, commercial arbitration cases and public interest pleas seeking facilities to ashram shalas meant for tribal children among others through the Zoom app between 12 noon and 2 pm.
The court had cautioned that though virtual, it is nonetheless a court hearing and therefore appropriate court conduct is required from participants. In the interest of ensuring a smooth hearing, the judge also directed all present to mute their microphones immediately,except the advocates who were going to make arguments. He allowed advocates to wear “sober” attire during the hearing without making mandatory the usual black, white and robe.
After conclusion of the hearing, he sought feedback and suggestions from lawyers and advocates who lauded the move.
After Thursday’s successful experiment, Justice Patel issued a press release stating thathe will continue to live-stream hearings till April 14.
Justice Patel observed - "The biggest difficulty that we are facing and will face if the restriction in movement continues, is getting access to papers physically asretrieving papers from the registry itself takes 4-5 days.
Senior Lawyers claimed that “Life even after Covid cannot be the same. Several new norms, although thrust upon us, should be institutionalized. Virtual litigation to an extent should happen even in the normal course, post-pandemic.”
Provisions in Indian Constitution on Video Conferencing
The Supreme Court in exercise of power under Article 142 of the constitution issued several guidelines, they are: -
- 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.
- 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.