Social distancing is a duty, not discretion during the pandemic: SC

NEW DELHI: On Friday it institutionalized video conferencing during the closing period and said that each individual and institution should implement measures designed by health authorities and governments to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

By providing modalities for using video conferencing facilities to hear urgent cases and even to record evidence, a bank of SA Bobde, Judges L Nageswara Rao and DY Chandrachud said: In the face of the extraordinary and unprecedented outbreak of a pandemic, it is necessary that at all levels answer the call and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of the virus. This is not a matter of discretion but of duty.

It said: It is necessary to guarantee compliance with social distancing guidelines issued periodically by various health authorities, the government of India and the states. The audience in the congregation in the congregation must necessarily become an exception during this period.

Using its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the bank attempted to institutionalize the use of video conferencing facilities to hear urgent matters by the HC and the courts of first instance, a consensus that emerged administratively on Friday during a video meeting between SC and chief committee and judges chairing electronic committees of 23 higher courts.

The bank led by CJI authorized the SC and the HCs to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the robust functioning of the judicial system through videoconferencing technologies consistent with the peculiarities of the judicial system in each state and dynamically developing the public health situation.

The court made a series of decisions after listening to Attorney General K Venugopal, Attorney General Tushar Mehta, Secretary of the Department of Justice Barun Mitra, Director General of NIC Neeta Verma and defenders of Vikas Singh and Shivaji M Jadhav.

The SC bank said: The district courts in each state will adopt the videoconference mode prescribed by the corresponding Superior Court. The court shall duly notify and make available the videoconference facilities for such litigants who do not have the means or access to the videoconference facilities.

Until further orders, he said, videoconferencing will be the mode of hearing cases for all three levels of the judiciary. However, he clarified that the courts of first instance will not record evidence by videoconference without the consent of both parties.

If it is necessary to record evidence in a courtroom, the presiding officer will ensure that the proper distance is kept between two people in court. The presiding officer will have the power to restrict the entry of people to the courtroom or the points from which the arguments are addressed by the defenders. No presiding officer shall prevent a party from entering the case unless that party suffers from an infectious disease. However, when the number of litigants is greater, the President will have the power to restrict the numbers. The president will preside, at his discretion, defer proceedings where it is not possible to restrict the number, he said and published the suo motu case taken for a subsequent hearing after four weeks.