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Coronavirus: How Supreme Court, high courts are tackling the pandemic

While some courts have limited the number of litigations to be taken up, medical and thermal-screening equipment are being installed at the court premises.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
March 16, 2020 3:06:11 pm
Thermal screening test at the Punjab and Haryana High Court due to coronavirus, in Chandigarh on Friday. (Express photo)

Amid the coronavirus scare, the Supreme Court and different high courts in India are undertaking various steps to prevent the spread of the infection. While some courts have limited the number of litigations to be taken up, medical and thermal-screening equipment are being installed at the court premises.

Following the advisory issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare cautioning against mass gatherings on March 5, the Supreme Court had on March 13 decided to restrict itself to hearing only urgent matters after its reopening on Monday following the Holi break.

Here’s how the Indian courts are tackling coronavirus threat.

Supreme Court

The top court has allowed only restricted entry of lawyers, litigants, and journalists in the courtroom. On Monday, long queues were seen at the entry gate with health officials thermal screening the lawyers, litigants and journalists.

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Usually, 15 benches of the Supreme Court sit on Monday and Friday and miscellaneous matters are taken up on these days. On Monday, only six of the total 15 benches will be sitting and only 12 matters each will be taken up, PTI reported.

On Sunday, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde held a meeting with four apex court judges, bar leaders of the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association and eminent doctors, including Randeep Guleria from the AIIMS, New Delhi, to discuss the situation and the steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The CJI ruled out the possibility of shutdown of the top court and said as virtual courts were on the verge of commencement.

The CJI further asked the Bar to encourage and promote e-filing and video conference of court halls, which will commence shortly.

A release issued by the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association said that sick persons having cough and cold symptoms would be asked to not attend the court. Besides, all those seeking entry to the court need to produce a declaration stating: “Whether the person has travelled overseas especially to any of the notified countries? (and in case of the person having visited any of the notified countries he/she should not be allowed any access to the Court).”

Bombay High Court

Following the Supreme Court’s notification, the Bombay High Court too issued a notice to litigants, advocates, and the public to avoid visiting court complexes unless necessary.

Acting Chief Justice Bhushan P Dharmadhikari also exempted HC staff in Mumbai, Nagpur, and Aurangabad from marking their attendance on the biometric systems and directed them to sign regular muster for attendance from March 16.

Coronavirus: Delhi bans gatherings with over 50 people, including in Shaheen Bagh

A notice said the functioning of the principal seat of Bombay High Court as well as its benches at Nagpur, Aurangabad and High Court of Bombay at Goa restricted to 12 to 2 pm starting from March 17 until further orders.

The order also said that the court staff will be present alternatively. Bar rooms should not be crowded and canteen and cafeteria in the court to remain closed after restricted working hours. “The principle idea being to avoid congestion and occasion of close contacts,” the notice said.

Delhi High Court

The Delhi High Court decided to hear only urgent matters from March 16. The High Court has decided to not insist on personal appearance of parties unless it is indispensable.

The HC has decided to make sanitisers available for visitors and staff, “particularly those manning windows where there is constant public dealing”.

As per an advisory, “Non-touch thermal scanners may be procured… and video conferencing be put to optimum use for recording of evidence.”

Punjab and Haryana HC

Punjab and Haryana Bar Council Monday announced suspension of work for Monday. “Considering the safety and security of the lawyers and community at large due to the Covid-19 virus outbreak the work shall remain suspended today i.e 16.03.2020 in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh. Further course of action will be decided in the Emergent meeting at 5 pm in Law Bhawan,” said a notice issued by Karanjit Singh, Chairman, Bar Council Punjab Haryana.

The Bar Association had on March 13 asked the High Court administration to restrict functioning of the court to only hearing of urgent matters, which involve prayers for stay and bail. The letter addressed to the Chief Justice Ravi Shankar Jha and two other senior judges of the High Court also requested the court to notify that only lawyers who are to appear in a matter are allowed inside courtrooms.

Patna High Court

Patna High Court Monday issued a notification, postponing all matters in the cause list today, except bail matters, to April 6, Bar and Bench reported. Only urgent matters, by order of the Motion Bench, will be listed before the respective benches, the notice stated.

On subsequent days, the cause list will be published only for regular bail matters and urgent matters, which will be listed orally before the Division bench at 10:30 am.

The court has also restricted the number of bail matters to be taken Monday to 25 cases only. The matters which were already listed on Monday in a previous judicial order will now be taken up on April 4.

Gauhati High Court

In a notice dated March 15, the Gauhati High Court has restricted the daily functioning to urgent matters only, Bar and Bench reported. The outlying benches at Kohima, Itanagar and Aizwal will also comply by the order.

Only the lawyers and parties whose matters are listed for the day are permitted in the courtroom. The parties will have to approach the Division Bench to list their matter in the cause list and it will be listed only after the bench approves of its urgent nature.

All lawyers, litigants, and members of staff will have to go through a medical screening before entering the court. The entry of any foreign national has been barred by the court.

Calcutta High Court

In a notice dated March 15, the Calcutta High Court said it will list only urgent matters from Tuesday, March 17, in view of coronavirus outbreak, Bar and Bench reported. The court has also intimated that “Hon’ble Judges may leave the Court complex and release their staff as early as possible”.

The notice stated that all activities in the Judicial Academy have been postponed from Monday until further orders. It is also informed that the Registrar General has been asked to write to the state government for increase in the strength of doctors in the High Court and the district courts besides providing thermal guns in adequate numbers to check the temperature of every entrant.

It has been directed that the presence of staff in all Courts be reduced by at least half and that the staff work on rotation.

The court has also directed the lawyers to not bring their clients to the court unless permitted by the court. Also, video conferencing can be availed to produce ‘undertrial prisoners’.

The Housekeeping staff has also been asked to maintain hygiene in the Court complex and spray disinfectants on a regular basis.

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