The sudden and exponential spike in COVID-19 cases has led to High Courts across the country reverting to virtual hearing of cases, a few months after they had restarted physical functioning
While some High Courts have completely stopped physical hearing, certain other High Courts are permitting the same in a limited manner.
Certain High Courts like Gujarat High Court did not go to physical mode at all and have been hearing cases virtually since the pandemic broke out in March 2020.
Below are details:
Delhi High Court
There was a lot of hullabaloo when the Delhi High Court had resumed complete physical functioning from March 15, nearly a year after it had started virtual hearings.
However, when it decided to resume physical hearing, it made virtual hearings an exception and not the norm by imposing various conditions which had to be met before a party could successfully seek virtual hearing.
This eventually led to a petition before the Supreme Court in which the top court asked the High Court to show accommodation when a person requests for virtual hearing unless the same is sought to be used as an excuse to seek an adjournment.
Consequently, within a week of resuming physical hearings, the High Court permitted lawyers/parties to seek virtual/hybrid hearings before it.
But less than a month after it resumed physical hearing, the High Court was forced to revert to full virtual hearing on April 9 in view of the spike in COVID-19.
As per the order in force, hearings will be completely by virtual mode till April 23.
Moreover, another notice was issued by the High Court on April 18 stating it will for the time being, hear only extremely urgent cases filed in 2021
Bombay High Court
The Bombay High Court decided to revert to virtual and hybrid mode of hearing cases except for criminal cases of extreme urgency effective from April 7.
Virtual hearing will continue till May 7 although physical filing of cases will be permitted.
In view of rising COVID cases, the Bombay High Court also declared a holiday from April 11 to 17, 2021.
The Bombay High Court had commenced physical hearing on December 1, 2020, amid protests from various sections of the Bar.
When the said decision was taken, the Bombay Bar Association and 452 lawyers practicing in Mumbai had separately written to Bombay High Court Chief Justice, Dipankar Datta requesting that lawyers be given the option to choose between physical and virtual hearings.
Restarting physical hearings, they had said, will create a “one-step forward, two steps back” situation.
The High Court had nevertheless gone ahead with physical hearing before it was once again forced to migrate to virtual mode.
Allahabad High Court
The Allahabad High Court reverted to full virtual hearing effective April 12, 2021. The entry of lawyers, litigants, petitioners in-person and clerks to the Court premises has been banned. Filing of cases through physical form is, however, continuing aside from the electronic mode.
The Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court had in fact regulated entry to its premises even earlier when it notified on April 1 that it has decided to bar the entry of litigants within the court premises from April 5.
Even the Photo affidavit centre was closed in view of the spike in cases.
Madras High Court
The Madras High Court notified on April 15 that it will be conducting only virtual hearings to the extent possible until April 23, 2021.
Only the appearance of the government lawyers in respect of bail and other urgent motions is being allowed physically.
All lawyers’ chambers and libraries were also closed due to the pandemic situation.
The situation will be reviewed on April 22.
The Court had in early February notified that it would hear matters both physically and virtually. Whereas physical hearings were rolled back on March 8 briefly, they were resumed on a limited scale from March 11. However, following a State advisory last week, the Court has now reverted back to virtual hearings for the time being.
Karnataka High Court
The Karnataka High Court has been continuing with the hybrid mode of hearing since the end of last year. While this would mean that lawyers who want to appear physically can do so, the last few weeks have seen Chief Justice AS Oka making repeated appeals to lawyers encouraging them to appear virtually and issuing guidelines to minimise physical appearances.
On April 1, Chief Justice AS Oka by way of an administrative order directed all Principal District and Sessions Judges to persuade judicial officers in the State who are 45 years of age or above, to get vaccinated against COVID-19 at the earliest.
On April 8, the High Court issued a notice requesting all advocates to attend courts via video conference mode as much as possible owing to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the State.
On April 15, a notice was issued prohibiting the entry of litigants and parties in-person inside the High Court complex as well as the District/Trial Courts in nine districts.
The notice also barred the recording of evidence in all civil and criminal cases except in those where a time-bound schedule has been fixed by the Supreme Court or High Court.
Punjab & Haryana High Court
The Punjab & Haryana High Court on April 17 decided that all its Benches will hear cases through video conference with effect from April 19.
At least 12 Benches of the Court were hearing cases physically up until then.
The Punjab & Haryana High Court Bar Association had written to the Chief Justice urging him to adopt the hybrid mode of hearing cases in which lawyers are given the option to choose between physical and virtual appearance.
The High Court agreed to the same in view of the spike in COVID cases. Meanwhile, the Chief Justice, Ravi Shanker Jha tested positive for the virus.
Telangana High Court
The Telangana High Court on April 15 decided to revert to complete virtual hearing of cases in view of the COVID-19 situation.
A notification to that effect was issued by the Registrar General stating that all Benches will hear cases virtually with immediate effect as opposed to the present mode of physical as well as virtual hearing.
The High Court had resumed physical hearing from February 2021 before it was forced to go back to virtual mode.
Jammu & Kashmir High Court
The Jammu & Kashmir High Court decided on April 5 to roll back its decision to hold physical hearing of cases in the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
An administrative order issued by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court on Monday directed that all courts in the two Union Territories will hear cases through video conference till April 18 in view of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
This was again extended till April 30.
Earlier, the High Court had resumed physical hearing in the two Union Territories from February 8 but the Court was prompted to reconsider the same in view of spike in Covid-19 cases.
Orissa High Court
The Orissa High Court reverted to video conference hearings from April 5, 2021. Filing of cases is happening through the drop-box near the court premises or via email or the e-portal.
Gujarat High Court
Gujarat High Court is one High Court which has effectively utilised technology to bring the court proceedings live to the public via YouTube. This penchant also reflected in the hearings with the High Court never having gone back to physical mode since virtual hearings began in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The Court is continuing to function through video conference mode till date.