In Re Guidelines For Court … vs Unknown on 6 April, 2020


Supreme Court of India

In Re Guidelines For Court … vs Unknown on 6 April, 2020

Author: Hon’Ble The Justice

                                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                                        CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

                                       SUO MOTU WRIT (CIVIL) NO.5/2020


                         IN RE: GUIDELINES FOR COURT FUNCTIONING THROUGH VIDEO
                         CONFERENCING DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC




                                                    O R D E R

1. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in

several countries, including India, has necessitated the

immediate adoption of measures to ensure social

distancing in order to prevent the transmission of the

virus. The Supreme Court of India and High Courts have

adopted measures to reduce the physical presence of

lawyers, litigants, court staff, para legal personnel

and representatives of the electronic and print media in

courts across the country and to ensure the continued

dispensation of justice.

2. Every individual and institution is expected to

cooperate in the implementation of measures designed to

Signature Not Verified
reduce the transmission of the virus. The scaling down
Digitally signed by
SANJAY KUMAR
Date: 2020.04.06
15:09:59 IST
Reason: of conventional operations within the precincts of

courts is a measure in that direction. Access to justice

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is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the

democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India. The

challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have

to be addressed while preserving the constitutional

commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to

justice to those who seek it. It is necessary to ensure

compliance with social distancing guidelines issued from

time to time by various health authorities, Government

of India and States. Court hearings in congregation must

necessarily become an exception during this period.

3. Modern technology has enabled courts to enhance the

quality and effectiveness of the administration of

justice. Technology has facilitated advances in speed,

accessibility and connectivity which enable the

dispensation of justice to take place in diverse

settings and situations without compromising the core

legal principles of adjudication. Indian courts have

been proactive in embracing advancement in technology in

judicial proceedings. The Indian judiciary has

incorporated Information and Communication Technology

systems through the e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode

Project (e-Courts Project) as part of the National e-

Governance Plan (NeGP). The robust infrastructure in

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place has reduced conventional impediments and legal

uncertainty surrounding the use of virtual courts. ICT

enabled infrastructure is available across all courts

including the district judiciary which constitutes the

initial interface of the court system with the citizen.

4. The use of technology found judicial recognition in

precedent of this Court in State of Maharashtra v Praful

Desai1. This Court held that the term ‘evidence’

includes electronic evidence and that video conferencing

may be used to record evidence. It observed that

developments in technology have opened up the

possibility of virtual courts which are similar to

physical courts. The Court held:

“Advances in science and technology have
now, so to say, shrunk the world. They now
enable one to see and hear events, taking
place far away, as they are actually taking
place…Video conferencing is an advancement
in science and technology which permits one
to see, hear and talk with someone far away,
with the same facility and ease as if he is
present before you i.e. in your presence… In
fact he/she is present before you on a
screen. Except for touching one can see,
hear and observe as if the party is in the
same room. In video conferencing both
parties are in presence of each other…
Recording of such evidence would be as per
“procedure established by law”.”

1 (2003) 4 SCC 601

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5. 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. This is not a matter of discretion but

of duty. Indeed, Courts throughout the country

particularly at the level of the Supreme Court and the

High Courts have employed video conferencing for

dispensation of Justice and as guardians of the

Constitution and as protectors of individual liberty

governed by the rule of law. Taking cognizance of the

measures adopted by this court and by the High Courts

and District Courts, it is necessary for this court to

issue directions by taking recourse to the jurisdiction

conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution.

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

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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

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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.

7. The above directions are issued in furtherance of

the commitment to the delivery of justice. The

cooperation of all courts, judges, litigants, parties,

staff and other stakeholders is indispensable in the

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successful implementation of the above directions to

ensure that the judiciary rises to face the unique

challenge presented by the outbreak of COVID-19. These

directions shall operate until further orders.

8. List the matter after four weeks.

……………………………………………CJI
[ S.A.BOBDE ]

………………………………………………J.

[ D.Y. CHANDRACHUD ]

……………………………………………J.

[ L. NAGESWARA RAO ]

NEW DELHI;

APRIL 06, 2020.

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