SCBA plea on hybrid physical hearings: court says whole world hit by pandemic

Justice Kaul calls for records in connection with case and schedules another hearing on Tuesday

The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a reported surge in COVID-19 cases in States like Maharashtra even as Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Vikas Singh highlighted the plight of the legal profession severely hit by the pandemic.

Justice S.K. Kaul, heading a Bench, reminded Mr. Singh that the entire world, not just lawyers, had suffered due to the pandemic.

“Lawyers are not special… People across the world are facing difficulties,” Justice Kaul said.

Mr. Singh said “lawyers are basically daily wagers”. Young lawyers suffered after physical hearings were stopped in the apex court.

The court was hearing a writ petition filed by the SCBA, through advocate Rahul Kaushik, against a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) notified by the court registry for hybrid physical hearing of cases from March 15.

‘Bar not consulted’

The association said the SOP was finalised without holding prior consultations with the Bar. Lawyers, it said, were an equal partner in the justice delivery mechanism.

The SOP involved limited entry into courtrooms in tune with the physical distancing norms and allowed judges on the Bench to decide whether a case should be held virtually or physically.

“It [SOP] cannot be forced on lawyers… It has been issued without discussion,” Mr. Singh submitted.

Justice Kaul called for records in connection with the case and scheduled another hearing on Tuesday.

The association, which has over 13,000 members, said the SOP notified on March 5 was just another instance when the court’s administrative wing – the court registry – did not choose to take lawyers into confidence.

Shift to virtual hearings

The pandemic had compelled the court to shift to virtual hearings in March last year. Through the past few months, several lawyers’ bodies had individually and jointly met the Chief Justice of India (CJI) with the plea to resume physical hearings.

The petition has urged the court to quash the SOP and make sure that the court registry consult lawyers before issuing any circulars in future which directly affect the lawyers practising in the court.

Mr. Singh, who has long campaigned for a full return to physical hearings in the court, said the SOP was prepared by the registry despite assurances from CJI Sharad A. Bobde in a meeting on March 1.

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