New Delhi: On Monday, after a gap of nearly seven months, the Supreme Court resumed working almost full strength although virtually.
Twenty eight judges of the 30 apex court strength sat for hearing cases through video conferencing. The eight benches conducting hearing through video conferencing comprise of three judges while two benches have two judges each. Justices Vineet Saran and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar are not sitting.
Since March 23, the top court has been functioning in a restricted manner, where it took up matters virtually in the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic.
Following the outbreak in March, a maximum of five benches used to sit daily taking up matters, on an average close to 30 cases per bench, through video conferencing.
Two single-judge benches are sitting to hear cases connected with transfer petitions. This is likely to continue the entire week, and 10 may sit each day to take up matters virtually.
The apex court had suspended physical hearings on March 23, and issued directions to take up only urgent matters through video conferencing in the lockdown period, but this trend continued even after the lockdown was lifted.
On August 31, the Supreme Court had issued standard operating procedure (SOP) for proposed experimental physical hearing of cases on the request of various lawyers’ bodies.
However, no date was put out in the SOPs for the resumption of physical hearing.
The SOP issued by Secretary General Sanjeev S. Kalgaonkar said : “On an experimental basis, and as a pilot scheme, physical hearing of matters may initially commence in three Court-rooms; eventually, number of matters or the number of Court-rooms may be increased or reduced, as the situation may warrant or permit.”
Earlier in August, a seven-judge committee headed by Justice N.V. Ramana took note of requests made by various lawyers’ associations to resume physical hearing of the cases on an experimental basis while adhering to safety guidelines.
The SOP said only such number lawyers or parties may be permitted to appear inside the courtrooms, which does not exceed the working capacity of the courts as determined under physical distancing norms.
The top court administration had said until further order, entry into the High Security Zone through proximity cards/long term passes shall be kept suspended.
Justices Ramana, Arun Mishra, Rohington Nariman, U.U. Lalit, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and L.N. Rao are part of the committee set up by the Chief Justice to look into the issue connected with resumption of physical hearings.