Standard Operating Procedure for the commencement of physical hearing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has been issued by the Supreme Court. A 7-Judges Committee of the Supreme Court had proposed the resumption of physical hearings in a limited manner. In this pilot scheme, while it was originally decided that physical hearing will commence in 3 courtrooms only, this number may increase or decrease as the situation may permit.
The circular reads, “In continuation of directions already notified regarding functioning of the Supreme Court of India, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, more particularly through Circulars dated 14.03.2020 and 23.03.2020, and on consideration of the requests received from the Bar Associations, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has been pleased to direct as follows:”
A restricted number of advocates/ parties in person will be authorised to enter the courtroom at a predetermined time, despite the consent given by many. This will ensure that the total number does not exceed the working capacity of the Court(s) as determined considering the physical distancing norms. But in circumstances where there is more number of parties than initially permitted, only one AOR and one Arguing Counsel per party would be allowed to enter. Further, one registered Clerk per party, as may be chosen by the AOR, shall be allowed entry to carry paper-books/journals etc. of the Counsels up to the Courtrooms.
Parties, counsels and other participants who are to attend this form of limited physical hearing can do so, by availing themselves of a daily “Special hearing pass,” which will be granted by the Registry, on the authority of the concerned Advocate on Record. Previously, entry into the High Security Zone could only be done through proximity cards/long term passes, which is now suspended. After undergoing a thermal scan, only Advocates/Parties-in-Person/Clerks or other stakeholders with Special Hearing Passes would be permitted to enter the High Security Zone through the designated Gate.
When Ld. Advocates/Parties-in-Person arrive at the High Security Zone, they have to continue towards the designated staging areas/vacant Court-rooms and wait for their turn to enter Court Rooms where the physical hearing of their case is scheduled, paying attention to the demarcated movement corridors created for this purpose. Once the hearing concludes, the Ld. Advocates/Parties-in- Person/Clerks, etc. are required to move out of the High Security Zone through the movement corridor and exit from the designated gates.
In cases where Ld. Advocates/Parties-in-Person have more than one case, each of the physical hearing in the Court Rooms would be issued a separate Special Hearing Pass and once the hearing for one of the cases reaches to an end, they may wait in the designated staging/waiting area(s) for the purpose for appearing for the next hearing(s). It is important to note that wearing of mask, frequent use of hand sanitiser and maintaining physical distancing norms is mandatory for all entrants into the Supreme Court premises, including Court-rooms.