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Supreme Court resumes physical functioning on limited scale

Lawyers, whose cases were listed for hearing, were seen outside the counters issuing entry passes early in the day. The court is yet to allow entry of litigants.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi |
Updated: October 22, 2021 8:19:20 am
Supreme Court, SC physical functioning, SC physical hearing, SC lawyers, covid-19 effect, india news, Indian expressLawyers outside the entry pass counter of the Supreme Court on Thursday. (Express photo)

After remaining off limits for lawyers and litigants for over 16 months since the start of the lockdown, signs of life returned to the corridors of the Supreme Court Thursday as it resumed physical functioning, albeit on a limited scale.

Lawyers whose cases were listed for hearing gathered in strength outside the counters issuing entry passes early to secure their passes. Visibly enthused lawyers were spotted exchanging pleasantries in the corridors and sharing lockdown experiences. However, the court is yet to allow entry for litigants, and will work in physical mode only on Wednesday and Thursday.

Inside the court rooms, two acrylic partitions — one in front of the judges and another before the counsel — separated the judges from the lawyers. The partitions were erected as a protective measure before the second Covid-19 wave when the court had plans to resume physical hearings.

In court 1, Senior Advocates Rakesh Dwivedi and Ranjit Kumar thanked Chief Justice of India N V Ramana for resuming the physical hearing. The CJI said, “We may start it on a larger scale after Deepawali.”

In court 4, Justice D Y Chandrachud, heading a bench with Justice M R Shah, held out a welcome for counsel. “We are happy to see you all. You cannot imagine how lonely it is to see the screen every morning,” Justice Chandrachud told a counsel. ‘It’s so good to see all the faces who bring joy and sunshine intellectually… Let’s hope we keep seeing the faces physically.”

The proceedings in court 7 were interrupted briefly as Justice S Abdul Nazeer found it difficult to hear the counsel who addressed from behind the partition using a microphone. The judge then asked the court officials to do away with the partition at the lawyers’ end during lunch time. Justice Nazeer told a counsel that he was free to remove his mask while addressing the bench and that the court was giving him permission for this.

However, the day wasn’t easy for reporters covering the SC as confusion prevailed over entry into the court rooms. Security personnel cited the SOPs for reopening the court and turned away many reporters. Entry was allowed to the media but only in limited numbers.

The court has been hearing cases only via virtual mode since the start of the lockdown in March 2020. With the number of Covid-19 cases declining, lawyers’ bodies have been demanding the resumption of full physical functioning, but the SC administration has decided to go slow due to apprehensions of a third wave.

Recently, it switched to hybrid hearing, permitting a mix of both physical and virtual hearing.

Supreme Court Bar Association president and Senior Advocate Vikas Singh welcomed Thursday’s reopening. Singh said he had spoken to Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain on and was told that Delhi has a sero positivity of 90 percent, thereby ruling out chances of a third wave.

On Wednesday, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal had urged the court to allow the hybrid option on all days, saying that it would be difficult to do things physically in cases involving voluminous records in keeping with Covid-19 protocols, that limit the number of lawyers inside courtrooms. He sought a meeting with the CJI and other judges to discuss the matter.

Accordingly, on Thursday, the CJI and four other most senior judges met a group of lawyers and law officers including Sibal, Attorney General K K Venugopal, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Senior Advocate C U Singh, SCBA president Singh, Bar Council of India chairman Manan Kumar Mishra and representatives of the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association.

Sources said the judges agreed to tweak a provision in the SOP, which says that virtual hearing may be allowed even on physical hearing days if the number of lawyers in a case exceeds the number permissible in a courtroom as per Covid-19 protocols to include other extraordinary situations too in it.

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