Group of senior lawyers opposes physical hearings in SC, CJI NV Ramana says he will discuss with other judges

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Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana Wednesday said that he will discuss with other judges the plea of a group of lawyers that the proposed hearing of cases through physical mode only on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the Supreme Court be deferred till the Diwali vacation.

A group of senior lawyers including Kapil Sibal, Mukul Rohatgi, A M Singhvi, and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned the issue before a bench, which also comprised justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, and said that the revised SOP to have mandatory physical hearings on Wednesday and Thursday will create a lot of difficulties and hence the “hybrid mode”, having both the options of physical and video conferencing, be allowed.

Some cases have voluminous records and they need the presence of several briefing counsel and observing COVID protocols in physical hearings will be difficult, Sibal said, adding that he was not opposed to physical hearing of cases.

Seeking the option of the hybrid mode of hearing on all working days, the senior lawyer sought permission to meet the panel of judges on the issue.

“While we respect the sentiments of all sections of the bar, we want to explain that there should be no hard and fast rule. Please allow us to come and explain the difficulties”, Sibal said.

The CJI said that the decision to resume physical hearing has been taken after some bar bodies raised the issue.

“You know why we took this decision. Bar associations are saying we are not listening and opening physical courts. So I asked my colleagues. Even though some of my colleagues had reservations, we went ahead. What is the problem in having a physical hearing for two days now,” the CJI said.

Sibal said he and others are not opposed to physical hearing, but there should not be a hard and fast rule.

“Many High Courts have the hybrid option. Please allow us to come and explain. In the meantime defer this till Diwali”, he said.

The CJI said that there was a committee of five judges for handling this issue and he will consult other judges.

The submission for hybrid hearing was vehemently opposed by senior advocate and SCBA President Vikas Singh who said that the senior lawyers should take a break but the courts should function in physical mode as many advocates are facing starvation.

“I am opposing. I want physical (mode) to start on all days. The senior lawyers who have difficulty can afford to take a break for six months but junior lawyers cannot, they are literally starving. Even I can take a break. Let us all take a break,” the bar leader said.

Reacting to his submission, the Solicitor General said, “This is not an election speech.”

Earlier, the apex court registry had come out with the revised SOP saying that from October 20, all the matters listed on Wednesdays and Thursdays would be heard in the physical presence of lawyers and litigants in courtrooms only.

In the fresh standard operating procedures (SOP), the apex court had said the decision was taken in view of the encouraging response from the Bar.

Prior to this, the apex court on August 29 had issued the SOPs to accord final hearing of cases in physical mode from September 1 and employed a hybrid option from Tuesday to Thursday amid strict observance of COVID appropriate norms.

The top court has been hearing cases through video conference since March last year due to the pandemic and several bar bodies and lawyers have been demanding that physical hearings should resume immediately.

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