On Monday, the Supreme Court of India issued a notice to the Supreme Court Bar Association, Bar Council of India and four other HC regarding a writ petition seeking to declare that virtual court hearing as a fundamental right.
A bench consisting of Justice BR Gavai and Justice L Nageswara Rao issued a notice on a writ petition seeking the retention of hybrid options for physical and virtual hearings in courts by saying that it enhanced the right to access justice.
The Uttarakhand, Bombay, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala High Courts are listed as respondents in the petition. The bench also appealed to BCI and SCBA, expressing their desire to know their views on the matter.
The petition was filed by the “All India Association of Jurists” and legal journalist Sparsh Upadhyay, challenging the recent ruling by the Uttarakhand High Court to return to a complete physical hearing, without the hybrid option.
Although Sidharth Luthra- Senior Advocate, the petitioner’s attorney, sought a temporary injunction to the Uttarakhand High Court’s decision, the bench said it would not be able to issue such an order at this time.
The petition also impleaded that the Registrar Generals of 3 High courts, namely Madhya Pradesh HC, Bombay HC and Kerala HC stating that the SOPs of the High Courts, though allowing for virtual hearings, many courtrooms were compelling and enforcing lawyers to only appear physically. It was also argued that many high courts did not properly provide links virtually to attend their cases by a virtual mode in the hybrid model adopted by them.
The petition also stated that the denial of access to facilities for conducting cases virtually is similar to the denial of fundamental rights under Article 19 read along with Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Therefore, the petition has requested a writ of Mandamus barring the Registrar Generals of all 4 HC from denying access to the virtual courts by Video Conferencing to any lawyer and journalists who intend to opt for the same only on the grounds that the physical hearing in the High Court concerned has commenced and the said mode of physical hearing should be preferred.
The petitioners, therefore, argued that the access to virtual courts for carrying out justice by the counsel or client was an essential element of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and thus could not be easily denied to the lawyers.
Petitioner number 2 who is a legal journalist pleaded that the refusal to access the courts would in fact have the effect of depriving him of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) as he would be denied the right to report as to what happened in real-time.
Referring to the judgment of M.R. Vijay Bhaskar v. Chief Election Commissioner, the journalist claimed that exercising the fundamental rights would become impossible if the access to virtual courts is wiped out.
The matter is now expected to be heard in four weeks.