New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a re-imagining of how access to justice can be ensured in the backdrop of an unprecedented health crisis. In a swift response, the Supreme Court went virtual since March 23. But it has not been a smooth ride so far, as the virtual hearing set up has miffed both judges and lawyers.
Earlier this week, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal made some scathing observations on the virtual court set up and said the system needs to be "reviewed".
The A-G has written a letter to the secretary general of the Supreme Court citing issues with the existing virtual court system. The A-G's office confirmed that he also had a meeting with officials from National Informatics Centre (NIC) and asked them look into these issues. An official in the A-G office said that the NIC had assured him that they will examine the existing system.
Lawyers have often complained about issues with the virtual hearing set up in the top court: screen going blank, issues with lawyers been put on mute, echo during hearing, and others.
On January 5, the A-G who was appearing before a bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao, was unmuted when the matter had come up on the docket. The A-G had requested the control room to unmute him during the previous matter. He termed it very disturbing and told the bench the system needs to be reviewed.
Speaking to IANS, senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, who was part of the proceedings in the matter on January 5, said the top court has adopted a bizarre system, where the judges have ceded the control of their courtroom to the control-room, which handles the functioning of the virtual hearing.
Citing the open court virtual functioning of the Kerala High Court and the virtual set up of Bombay High Court, Singh added these courts are doing very well in taking up matters through video conferencing.
On the same day, another bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul expressed its "exasperation" over the poor functioning of the virtual court system. The bench also drew a sharp comparison between the system in the top court with the system functional in the Delhi High Court, where the latter had no such problems.
"We at the inception must note our exasperation at the inability of the virtual court system to work satisfactorily in the Supreme Court while there is no such problems in the Delhi High Court next door," said the bench also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy.
The three-judge bench which was hearing a special leave petition in a criminal case directed the secretary general to look into this issue as it was becoming very difficult to continue with proceedings in the virtual courts in an appropriate manner.
"We have been since yesterday trying to cope with the problem of disconnections, resonance of voices even when there is a single person arguing. It is difficult to understand this despite more licences stated to have been taken. The only voice we hear is the resonance of our own voices," said the bench in its order.