Bombay High Court: No Full-Strength Hearings In the Near Future Due to the Pandemic

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Two separate senior counsels urged for the functioning of Bombay HC with full strength. Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta held both hearings. They asked him to consider social-distancing norms in Courts. This was to restore its normal functioning. However, the Bombay HC held that full strength hearing would not happen amidst the pandemic.

Issue

Senior judges of the Administrative Committee were present at the hearing. They include Adv. Gen. Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, ASG Anil Singh, and other members of Bar associations. One member stated that the Justice did not want to resume physical functioning.

Discussions at the Meeting 

The Judges said that the presence of 6-7 persons was necessary. This was to enable video conferencing. Considering the state of affairs, no other solution is available. Currently, two Division Benches and three Single Benches are hearing urgent matters. This arrangement has been decided upon for hearings on May 22nd, 26th, 29th and June 2nd.

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The letter submitted by the advocates was of the view that the pandemic may not improve any time soon. They asked for the physical functioning of Courts to resume under such conditions. Senior advocates Vijay Thorat, Prasad K Dakhephalkar, Vineet Naik, A.V. Anturkar, Prasad Dani, Atul Damle and Vishwajeet Sawant, submitted the letter. The counsels think that a “normal” condition may not arrive soon. They want the Court functioning to resume as before.

Further Discussions

Adv. Anil Sakhare also believed that normal Court functioning should resume. He compared it to how other industries are slowing resuming their operations. To this, he added that court functioning is an essential service. He held that it can be opened in a phased manner.

Another letter addressed to Chief Justice talked about the rising number of cases. Advocates Iqbal Chagla, Janak Dwarkadas, Fredun E De Vire, M. P. Bharucha, Navroz Seervai, Darius Khambata submitted the letter. They requested the CJ to consider reopening courts to handle the load. They suggested keeping reasonable safety measures at recommencement.

Suggestions

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The suggestions put forth include safety precautions like social distancing. Other suggestions include fixing a certain number of cases for each bench. It was also suggested to assign slots for benches and to list fresh cases. E-passes can be issued to control entry into courts. Effective transportation may be provided for court staff. Allotting fixed time for filing of submissions has also been suggested.

Verdict

The Bombay HC has been working two hours every few days of the week. Lawyers visit courts to collect orders. The letter has asked the Court to consider the number of pending cases. It also highlighted the difficulties faced by litigants. Economic factors mentioned as an additional factor. An advocate stated that the future of litigation was in their hands.

Justice Dutta clarified that he did not want to resume normal Court functions. He held that full strength hearing would not happen during the pandemic.


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