The legal fraternity gave a mixed response to the commencement of physical hearings by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday (September 1), after a gap of more than five months, with several lawyers asking the court that their matters be heard via video conferencing.
The high court has been conducting hearings through video conferencing since March 24 to contain the spread of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Two division benches — one of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan and other of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar — and three single judges — Justices Jayant Nath, V K Rao and Yogesh Khanna — held physical hearing of cases on Tuesday.
The same set of division benches and judges will hold the court on Wednesday (September 2) thereafter, and on the next two days, it will be another set of division benches and judges.
Other division benches and single judges would hold court via video conference as they did on Tuesday.
The staff of the respective courts of the Chief Justice, Justice Nath and Justice Rao said that in several matters the lawyers indicated their preference for hearings via video conferencing and urged that their cases be listed on dates when virtual hearings would be held.
However, in the separate courts of Justice Sanghi and Justice Khanna, all the matters listed for physical hearing were conducted without a hitch and no one sought dates for virtual hearings, the respective court staff said.
According to the standard operating procedures (SOP) issued for holding physical courts, the high court would be open all five days of the week from September 1, but the judges/benches will sit on rotation basis.
As per the SOP, the entry in the court blocks for the purpose of attending physical hearings will be restricted to only one advocate per party whose case is listed that day and party-in person who is pursuing his/her case without any legal assistance.
Besides, senior counsel engaged by any advocate, registered clerks for delivering bulky case files to advocates and standing or nominated counsel for any of the party or entity whose cases are listed for physical hearing that day will be allowed.
Juniors, interns or law students associated with the advocate concerned, relative of any litigant and non-registered clerks will not be allowed entry in the court blocks, the SOP, issued by the office of Registrar General Manoj Jain, has said.
All those who will be permitted entry have to mandatorily wear mask all times, undergo thermal screening at the designated entry points, sanitise hands at the time of entry, follow social and physical distancing of six feet and adhere to all directions and guidelines issued by the government in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to ensure strict adherence to the norm of social distancing, seats in each courtroom have been limited to bare minimum and entry time to any court block shall be regulated as per the time slots mentioned in the cause list for different batches of cases.
The SOP has also said each batch shall consist of 10 cases and no person shall be permitted entry inside the court blocks before the designated time-slot as per the cause list.
“Entry of the first batch to the particular floor of the court block shall take place at 10.00 am. Second batch shall be permitted entry to a designated waiting space inside the court block at 11.15 am and the third batch at 12.15 pm. No person shall be permitted entry inside the court blocks before the designated time slot,” it has said.
It has also said that medical facilities in the form of an additional ambulance with complete infrastructure to tackle COVID-19 emergencies shall be stationed during working hours in the high court.
There will be an earmarked room in the high court dispensary dedicated as COVID-19 isolation room, to be used as and when any person reflecting coronavirus symptoms is found. He or she will be shifted to the isolation room till he or she is taken to the hospital after which the room will be sanitised, the SOP has said.