In a decisive step towards pre-pandemic routine, the Supreme Court has made physical hearings the norm twice a week.
“In view of the encouraging response from the Bar and with a view to further facilitate hearing through physical mode, all the matters listed on Wednesday and Thursday, as non-miscellaneous days, would be heard only in physical presence of the counsel/parties in courtrooms,” a Supreme Court circular said.
The court released its modified standard operating procedure after taking in suggestions from the Bar and advice from experts to make access to the courtrooms less cumbersome.
Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had recently informed senior advocates that the court was working on striking a balance between access to lawyers to courts and their safety and good health at the workplace.
The CJI had said the court was apprehensive about how crowded courtrooms would expose lawyers and staff to infection.
In the modified rules, the court said there would be a 15-minute break at the discretion of the Bench during physical hearings. The courtrooms have to be vacated during this interval in order for them to be sanitised.
Lawyers would be called in one case after the other. They can wait at the Bar lounges in the building for their cases to be called. This has been done to avoid crowds in the corridors.
The court has, however, added a rider to the physical hearings on non-miscellaneous days, saying that a Bench could take a call to revert to virtual mode if it finds that the number of lawyers in a particular case exceeds the working capacity of the courtroom as per the COVID-19 norms.
The circular said cases listed on Tuesday, as a non-miscellaneous day, would also be heard in physical mode. However, on prior application by the advocate-on-record (AOR) for the party, appearance through video/tele-conferencing mode would also be facilitated.
Cases on Mondays and Fridays, which are miscellaneous days, would continue to be heard virtually for the present.