The Supreme Court on Friday gave more definitive signs of reassessing the possibility of resuming physical hearings in the near future, with a Bench remarking that “it will happen soon.”
The remark came when Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing before the Bench in a case, pointed out that there was a direction to the effect that the case has to be heard in physical court.
“This matter has been directed to be heard in physical court, and that might not happen soon”, Rohatgi said.
“No Mr. Rohatgi, it is not going to take long. It will happen soon”, the Bench responded.
On January 20, another Bench had hinted that the top court is likely to reassess whether or not it will resume physical hearings.
That Bench, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, was hearing the case concerning reservation for Maratha community under the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act when it stated:
“We intend not to begin hearing (of Maratha reservation case) on January 25. We will keep the matter to pass directions after two weeks so that we know from when we start the physical hearing. We can fix a date (for final hearing) then.”
These remarks were made after Rohatgi, appearing for the Maharashtra government, had urged the Court to conduct physical hearings for this case.
The same day, a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said that while the Supreme Court is keen to revert to normal functioning, the same will not be done without an opinion from medical experts.
CJI Bobde made the remark while hearing the pleas challenging the January 14 decision of the Delhi High Court to commence physical hearing in High Court and lower courts in Delhi.
During the hearing of the matter, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh brought up the topic of resumption of physical hearings at the Supreme Court.
In response, CJI Bobde replied,
“We also want to come to back to action like we did before. But not without medical opinion on board.”
The top court has been functioning via video conferencing since March 23, 2020, when it shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It had issued a circular on March 23 suspending the entry of lawyers and litigants to the court premises and directing that only urgent cases will be taken up for hearing through video conferencing.
Virtual hearings are conducted through Vidyo app, which can be downloaded on mobile phones and desktop.
The Court had attempted to resume physical hearing in September 2020, but with little success.
It had, in fact, modified the Court rooms and installed infrastructure to commence physical hearing in a limited way, but the same was met with a lukewarm response from the Bar.
Various courts including the High Courts of Bombay and Delhi have already commenced physical hearing.