Justice In The Time Of Covid-19: First-Hand Experience Of Videoconferencing At Supreme Court

After a self-imposed quarantine of more than 10 days, it was rather exciting to see the cause list on the website of the Supreme Court which showed that my matter was listed at 3 PM on 27.03.2020.
What is rather commendable is that in times of complete lockdown due to Covid-19, the Apex Court has evolved an extra-ordinary process to ensure the listing and hearing of urgent matters. The method to get the matter listed is simple and, in my experience, far easier than getting the matter listed during ordinary times. The AOR or the party-in-person is required to send an email explaining the urgency along with an unattested affidavit of urgency. The Court has permitted the filing of a duly affirmed affidavit at a later point in time, duly recognising that it may not be possible for advocates to get such affidavits signed and affirmed before an oath commissioner due to the prevailing un-precedented times. After the issuance of the email for listing, if the request for listing is allowed, the matter is automatically listed the next day. However, it is not the end of the road for a matter, if the request is rejected. A list of email requests that are rejected was also uploaded on the Supreme Court website. In all such cases, the procedure prescribed by the Apex Court permits the counsel to contact the relevant Judge in charge and mention the matter to explain the urgency, over a telecon. Mentioning over a phone call is an extra-ordinary measure adopted in extra-ordinary times by the Apex Court and is an aspect that I deeply appreciate. The ease of process for the listing of an urgent matter is a great initiative and should be continued even after restoration of normalcy.

Coming back to the hearing, after the cause list was uploaded on 26.03.2020, sometime late evening, I was added to a group on WhatsApp. The group had other AORs whose matters were listed before the bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Arun Mishra and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Deepak Gupta. The Administrator of the group, who was the technical person facilitating the call, sent a message asking everyone to address all queries relating to the hearing to him. The creation of the group was rather reassuring since the Vidyo App leaves one is a state of suspense. Despite this reassurance and the best effort of the court, there were tensed moments due to the inadequate information about the process being adopted by the Apex Court for the videoconferencing.
The Process
As a background, there is no system of pre-login to the Vidyo Application. A link is shared with the advocate on record, just before the hearing and upon clicking the link, the Vidyo Application allows the AOR to login. Without the link, the AOR cannot login to the application. If you click on the link and the video-call drops, the same link does not work again and one requires a de novo link from the administrator. A test link was shared with us around 1 PM and the same had worked perfectly fine for us.

As per the process, a particular AOR is allowed to log-in only once his/her matter is called out. This means that the AOR for item 2 will get the link only once item 1 concludes. Furthermore, the benches also convene one after the other and not simultaneously. This meant that if the matters before the Bench comprising of HMJ D.Y. Chandrachud and HMJ Surya Kant (which was scheduled to hold a hearing at 11 AM) went on for longer than 1 PM, the bench of HMJ L. Nageswara Rao and HMJ Aniruddha Bose where the cause list indicated the time as 1 PM, would be able to preside on their matters only later.

It was clarified by the administrator that if informed in advance, the link shared with the AOR, can be shared by the AOR with the Senior Advocate. The same was done successfully in item 1 before the bench comprising of HMJ Mishra and HMJ Deepak Gupta where Mr. K.V. Vishwanathan, Senior Advocate and Ms. Raghenth Basant, Advocate had logged into from two different links though representing the same party. I did not take this chance and went to Mr. Maninder Singh, Senior Advocate’s office, from where we conducted the video conference in our matter.
Item 1 before HMJ Arun Mishra and HMJ Deepak Gupta started sometime around 320 PM. As item 2 before the bench, my matter was sought to be taken up at 3 50 PM. A link was shared with me by the administrator of the WhatsApp group. After 5 failed attempts at logging into application Vidyo, the hearing took place on a video call over WhatsApp as contemplated in the circular dated 26.03.2020. During this period, I was able to converse with the Administrator through the WhatsApp group as also over the phone. The hearing over the WhatsApp call was smooth.

After conclusion of the hearing, we got a great sense of satisfaction that at least we had been able to achieve a fruitful hearing during days when the complete nation is in a state of shut down. However, there is a lot of scope for improvement. To start with, my email for mentioning was not acknowledged. There was no manner for submitting an appearance slip. While we submitted the same to the admin of the WhatsApp Group, he informed that he may not be able to handover the same to the court master. Additionally, we had a limited legal issue to address the Hon’ble Bench on. However, the lack of an interface where we can share scanned documentation/precedents with the bench means that the hearing is limited to what is already filed before the court. My query in this regard to the administrator of the group remained unanswered. Furthermore, much of our anxiety could have been put to rest, if a login id and password was issued to the AORs in advance. However, it is just the beginning and we can only expect that things will get better in times to come. I for one, am an optimist. The process for urgent hearing gives litigants the hope that the gates of the majestic Apex Court of this country are forever open to those who knock them much like how help is always given at Hogwarts, to those who ask for it

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