The Bombay High Court on Monday said it will not conduct full strength in-court hearings in near future in view of Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown restrictions.
Chief Justice Dipankar Datta held a meeting on Monday to review the situation in view of the extended lockdown, along with three senior most judges forming the administrative committee of the HC, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and representatives of Bar associations.
CJ Datta was of the firm opinion that physical courts cannot be opened in near future, said an officer-bearer of a Bar association who attended the meeting.
The officer-bearer said the administrative judges were of the view that in the present situation, physical courts should not be opened. On demands of additional benches for videoconference hearings, the judges said that for every bench, additional staff of six-seven persons is required, which is not possible in the present scenario. However, there will be two division benches and three single benches (altogether seven judges) hearing urgent matters.
As per a circular issued by the HC, it will conduct videoconference hearing as per ongoing arrangement on May 22, 26, 29 and June 2.
The HC on Monday also directed subordinate courts in Maharashtra, Goa, Daman and Diu, Union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli that at the district level, a committee of three judges be formed to implement safeguards to minimise spread of Covid-19 during the lockdown.
CJ Datta, through registrar general S B Agrawal, directed subordinate courts to pass judgements in cases which are posted for pronouncement and also pass suitable orders in cases which are brought before them in the form of compromise or settlement after due verification of such compromise.
Earlier in the day, two sets of senior counsels wrote separate letters to CJ Datta urging him to consider the court function with full strength with reasonable safety precautions and social distancing measures to attain normalcy in a phased manner.
A letter submitted by senior advocates Vijay Thorat, Prasad K Dakhephalkar, Vineet Naik, AV Anturkar, Prasad Dani, Atul Damle, Vishwajeet Sawant said it is unlikely that Covid-19 will be eradicated in near future and eventually one will have to accept ‘new normal’ and resume transactions with necessary restrictions.
Senior advocate Anil Sakhare, one of the signatories, said, “We know that measures like social distancing will have to become a norm. As some of the industries are opening slowly, the courts are also essential services. It can be opened in phased manner. Since an enforcement of nationwide lockdown, most cases are heard through videoconference and some lawyers do visit court for orders. The trial courts are also hearing only urgent matters.”
Another letter by senior advocates Iqbal Chagla, Janak Dwarkadas, Fredun E De Vire, Navroz Seervai, Darius Khambata and M P Bharucha urged the HC to explore ways to start sitting at full strength again and stated that court may not be able to deal with the caseload piling while it continues to conduct hearings in restricted manner.