On Friday, Dipankar Datta, Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, decided that physical hearings, that began on 1st December, will continue in the Court. This decision was made due to the lack of incidents of concern in hearings. The Registrar General of the Court noted in the issued order that following an inspection of physical courts on 3rd December, the Chief Justice established that hearings were proceeding smoothly with no overcrowding.
While the physical courts were in session, the Chief Justice, accompanied by Shri Justice S. Kulkarni found the overcrowding allegations in some representations to be untrue. Till date, there is an absence of any incident that would justify the discontinuation of these hearings that have recommenced on an experimental basis.
Adhering to COVID protocols, a decision to continue such hearings was made. On 27th November, the High Court announced that physical hearings will be conducted on an experimental basis beginning from December 1, 2020 to January 10, 2021. However, this decision was not welcomed by the Bombay Bar Association (BBA) and 452 practising Mumbai lawyers. They requested the Chief Justice to give lawyers a choice between physical and virtual hearings.
The increase in countrywide COVID cases was highlighted in the representations along with emphasising the risk of increased transmission. A modification in the order was requested by the BBA. Friday’s order states that every High Court judges “in one voice expressed in favour of continuation of physical hearings in tune with the standard operating procedure dated November 27, 2020 till January 8.”
Regarding the resumption of physical hearings, members of the Bar that interacted with the Chief Justice, expressed their satisfaction. The Chief Justice has decided to continue with the SOP dated November 27, 2020 with liberty granted to members of the Bar of approaching individual Benches to fix desirable separate boards for morning and afternoon sessions. This will facilitate smooth and seamless physical hearings, that comply with COVID norms, in the future.