High Courts and trial courts should use videoconferencing and other technology to hear cases and help ensure social distancing, the Supreme Court said today amid the 21-day lockdown declared by the Centre to contain the spread of coronavirus. The Supreme Court had heavily cut down on its benches and is hearing only the very urgent cases.
As the number Coronavirus cases in the country crossed 4000, the top court today said the use of technology cannot be seen as temporary issue. "Technology is here to stay," said Chief Justice SA Bobde, who was hearing the case with Justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao.
Asking the High Courts to decide on the modalities of technology, the three-judge bench said, "COVID-19 makes social distancing necessary and there is a need to ensure that presence in court premises do not lead to infections".
Until appropriate rules are framed by the High Courts, videoconferencing will be used, the top court directed. High Courts can use any application which works in their jurisdiction for video conferencing, the judges said, adding that all courts have to make appropriate arrangements for litigants who cannnot access videoconferencing facilities.
The court, however, barred the recording of evidence through videoconferencing. If evidence must be recorded, the presiding officer will ensure that distance is maintained inside the courtroom, the judges said, allowing the lower courts the power to restrict entry inside the court-room.
The courts also have to maintain a helpline for grievances regarding video feed and line during and immediately after the hearing, the top court said.
The video-conferencing facility at the top court, however, did not work well on Friday. Commenting on that, Chief Justice Bobde asked the Department of Justice and director of NIC to take note of the problem and "eliminate the glitches".
"NIC connection with MTNL was a problem. Glitches must be eliminated, otherwise court work cannot succeed. We request the Director General of the NIC to take note and do all that necessary to ensure connectivity," the top court said.
The NIC chief who attended the videoconference assured the court that a detailed SOP for usage will be sent to the High Courts. The next hearing will be held after four weeks.