IN A webinar organised by the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana on Thursday evening, the chairman of the E-Committee of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Ajay Tiwari said the HC cannot have more than 15 courts in the existing circumstances with the presence of ”a very very skeletal staff” even as the Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave stressed that the judiciary in India cannot remain in a coma.
The HC in Chandigarh has only been hearing cases of urgent nature and that too after mentioning of the litigations over e-mail by the lawyers or litigants. The High Court has 55 judges at present. “We have been able to develop our technological capacity to the extent that we can have 15 courts functioning which is not very much…,” Justice Tiwari said, adding that 15 courts means 30 cases each.
Justice Tiwari said such a system has its own problems even with the best technological system in place.
“We have had sometimes hearings which started as a video conferencing but somebody’s signal dropped and then ultimately the hearing went on by telephone,” he said.
Stating that they are working on various options, Justice Tiwari said the question is not just about limiting people to courts but how people have access to their lawyers when there are restrictions. “I don’t think we really have a choice… Yes, we must start physical hearings. We have to start it,” he said, adding that they are thinking about a system where the judges could be inside their chambers, staff in courtrooms and have five-six spots — with technological tools — for the lawyers or litigants without access to technological tools.
Justice A Mohammed Mushtaq, the chairman of the Kerala High Court e-committee, while addressing the webinar said that the HC has heard 1,800 cases in the past 40 days. The Kerala HC also streams its hearings through Zoom application. While referring to the advisory issued by the Central government regarding use of the app, Justice Mushtaq said they went ahead with the thought that courts function as an “open data platform” and there is “nothing perhaps” secret about their functioning. The application was also found feasible for live streaming of an open court system, he said.
Dave during his address said that the judicial system has been virtually brought to a standstill and the past six weeks have been wasted by the judiciary. He also said both Parliament and judiciary have been unable to critically examine what the government is doing.
“We are right now having video conferencing in the Supreme Court. The platform is extremely unsatisfactory. It is not a platform which does justice to anybody, neither to honourable judges nor to the lawyers, much less to the litigants, The hearings are taking place and judges are making very serious efforts to do it but the system is not very efficient. I think we have to seriously reconsider whether we should continue to move on with this kind of video conferencing system,” he said.
Dave stressed the need of televising the court proceedings as a measure to prevent the footfall of litigants and lawyers inside the courtrooms. “I don’t know why judges are afraid of allowing televised hearings. The quality of hearings will improve as sometimes bar members present cases in an irresponsible way…we will become far more responsible. Sometimes judges make comments which are uncalled for… the judges will also think many times before making such comments,” he added.
Justice Tiwari earlier said the aspect of public hearing can be taken by live streaming but, added, “that live streaming of an open court proceeding is one thing but live streaming of a video conference is a totally different thing….we are working on various options. The question is not as simple as limiting people to court…”