Madhya Pradesh High Court broadens the purview of matters to be heard by Subordinate Courts amid Extended Lockdown

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A circular was issued by the Madhya Pradesh High Court on May 4, 2020, regarding the further directions for the functioning of the court amid extended lockdown as announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs earlier in the month.

The circular was made applicable to all sub-ordinate courts except the courts in Indore, Bhopal and Ujjain districts. Such an exception is made as the aforementioned districts are marked as red zones with widespread infection of COVID-19.

Analysis

The directions were issued in addition to the original circular dated 25.03.2020 which stated that no matter unless eminently emergent shall be taken up for hearing. In case of such urgent matters, due permission is to be sought from the District Judge for High Court and In-charge officer for Sub-ordinate Courts.

The present circular expands the purview of the Sub-ordinate Courts to deal with matters which are at the stage of disposal, order, final hearing, remands and bails, civil appeals and criminal revision. These matters have been included as it permits the proceedings only by hearing of advocates of both the parties and not the oral evidence of the presiding officer of the concerned court. It also directs the presiding officer to request the counsels to file written arguments and maintain social distancing.

Since the expansion shall require more court staff to cater the need of administrative and executive work, the employees may be called in rotating shifts ensuring the presence of not more than 1/3 or 1/ 4 of the total staff. It also directs that such a requirement must be arranged in a manner that neither shall it create rush at the court premises nor does the understaffing hamper the court functioning. The order makes an exception for the absence of officers/staff residing in containment zones; however, they must remain connected with an active mode of communication during office hours. It also reprimands the court staff on leaving the residence for non-official purposes without the permission of the presiding officer.

The circular directs the District Judge to ensure that protocol of wearing masks, sanitizing and social distancing is followed at every place where the advocates and public is entering the Court premises. For this purpose, circles with minimum one-meter distance must be made to ensure precautionary measures. The guidelines issued in the earlier order dated 20.04.2020 must be adhered for conducting hearing through video conferencing. It also mandates a weekly progress report by the District and Session Judges to be sent to the Registry up to Sunday morning of each week.

Recent developments

In the wake of current circular, the bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court at Jabalpur has issued a memo to all District and Session Judges to extend the bail period of the accused up to 45 days who were earlier released on interim bail. The interim bail was going to lapse within the period of extended lockdown, thus, after consideration, the Hon’ble High Power Committee has again extended the period.


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