Justice Gautam Patel of Bombay High Court has decided to regulate the number of people coming inside his courtroom. He made it clear that he will start virtual hearing of cases if people do not adhere to COVID rules in courts.
By: Priya Kumari, B.A.LL.B., Maharashtra National Law University Aurangabad.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts in the whole country had switched to online hearings. In Maharashtra, in the month of December, the physical hearing was resumed. Later, it was converted into a mixed system of case hearing which includes both virtual and physical hearing. Various benches of the Bombay HC have been conducting virtual hearings as well as physical hearing for specific cases.
After the starting of the physical hearing, a large number of people are seen inside and outside the courtrooms. On the other hand, there is a fresh rise in COVID cases in Maharashtra. As per the Health Ministry’s statement, Maharashtra reported 4,787 new COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths in the last 24 hours.
In the Bombay High Court, policemen have been stationed outside every courtroom. Their work is to ensure that a large number of people do not get entry inside. Even after this arrangement, overcrowding has been witnessed in the courtrooms. Taking into consideration all these situations, a Bombay High Court judge, Justice Gautam Patel has issued some guidelines for the regulation of the number of people in the courtroom. He also warned to suspend physical hearing and revert to virtual hearing if lawyers and litigants do not follow the minimal precautionary measures laid down by him. Regarding this matter, a notice was issued by the judge’s office which set out the guidelines that advocates and litigants must follow while coming into his court. It is must for them to follow the basic social distancing norms.
Justice Patel mentioned stated, “There is far too much overcrowding in Court Room 37. Advocates and parties are not observing safety norms and precautions. For this reason, with immediate effect, only those who have matters in court will be permitted entry. There may be a random check and those without matters will be made to leave.”
“This is for a reason, which should be obvious,” the notice stated.
He further said that case time slots of every party are specified at the top of the board. Advocates and parties should come to Court only in accordance with their case time slots. His notice also mentions that advocates in the next time slot need not report to his courtroom ahead of time.
Along with this, in order to facilitate lawyers further, Justice Patel held that the instructions have been given to his court associate to flash messages on the online display board if in any case the previous time slot is delayed for any reason. Last year, in a webinar, Justice Gautam Patel shared his opinion about virtual hearing. He said that virtual hearings should remain as an option for a judge.