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“Justice delayed is justice denied”. The corona scare has delayed ...

  May 14, 2020

“Justice delayed is justice denied”. The corona scare has delayed the judicial proceedings in the country but this delay can not be accepted for a long term. In this context what reforms/steps may be taken to ensure safety in courts for justice to citizens? Discuss.

  1. The COVID-19 crisis is far from over. Once the lockdown is lifted, unless the number of advocates/litigants is restricted in open court proceedings, the possibility of the virus spreading is high.
  2. Therefore invoking its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court issued certain directions for the functioning of courts through video conferencing during the lockdown. 
  3. But in a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India, the Bar Council of India has opposed the continuation of virtual hearings once the lockdown is lifted, on the grounds that 90% of the advocates and judges are “unaware of technology and its nuances”. 
  4. A virtual court hearing is one where there is no physical court room. All the participants take part in proceedings using telephone or video conferencing facilities. 
  5. In its order, the Supreme Court had also indicated that the district courts would follow the video conferencing rules as formulated by the respective High Courts.
  6. Realising that the lockdown may continue for a while, the Delhi High Court formed a panel to create a graded plan for courts functioning after the lockdown. 
  7. In the Madras High Court, the facility for e-filing of cases, which was initially only for bail applications, was launched on April 22, 2020. Filing of urgent cases through e-mail is also permitted now.
  8. While it is true that there is less pressure on the courts now, this will change once the lockdown is lifted. It is in this context that suitable safety measures must be put in place for conducting proceedings after the lockdown is lifted. 
  9. The judiciary must be allotted sufficient funds for self-administration and timely delivery of justice. 
  10. As much of the Supreme Court and many High Courts will remain closed for the summer, the High Courts can consider constituting committees, as the Delhi High Court did, to create graded plans for the courts functioning after the lockdown. 
  11. They can formulate plans based on the availability of infrastructure to conduct virtual hearings or actual hearings, or by running courts in shifts. 
  12. In case any of the courts are inclined to conduct open court hearings, they may have to implement some guidelines. 
  13. One, only those lawyers/litigants whose cases are listed for the day’s hearing should be allowed to enter court halls. 
  14. Two, the lawyers must enter in batches according to the serial number in the list. 
  15. Three, thermal image cameras must be installed at the entrance of every court building, to identify risk persons. 
  16. Four, every person entering the court premises must install the Aarogya Setu app on their phones. 
  17. Five, at the entrance of every court complex, an automatic hand wash faucet should be installed. 
  18. Six, there should be regulations on the manner of functioning and running of public utility services, canteens, etc., within the court premises with all necessary precautions. 
  19. Seven, masks, gloves and sanitisers should be made available. 
  20. Importantly, as junior lawyers have been seriously impacted by the lockdown, they should receive financial assistance (even in the form of a loan from a nationalised bank) from the Central government.