COVID-19 lockdown extension to delay crucial hearings in SC, Delhi HC & other courts

By: |
April 14, 2020 5:40 PM

The apex court has already restricted its functioning due to the lockdown and is presently hearing cases of only urgent nature through video conferencing.

The SCBA had requested that the period of summer break in the apex court be treated as working period in the larger interest of the litigants.The SCBA had requested that the period of summer break in the apex court be treated as working period in the larger interest of the litigants.

The extension of nationwide lockdown till May 3 to contain coronavirus would delay important hearings in the Supreme Court, including pleas against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and issues pertaining to scope of freedom of religion as also judicial scrutiny into “essential religious practices” of separate religious denominations.

The apex court has already restricted its functioning due to the lockdown and is presently hearing cases of only urgent nature through video conferencing. It was all set to commence hearing on the Sabrimala reference case, related to the scope of freedom of religion, on the re-opening of the court after the Holi break.

Before the pandemic forced the Centre to take emergency steps like lockdown, the top court’s hearing schedule was packed as it had assured several anti-CAA petitioners and those opposed to abrogation of provisions of Article 370 that their pleas would be heard, just after a nine judge bench would conclude the hearing in the Sabrimala case.

However, steps like social distancing led to reduction of number of functional courts in the apex court and later the lockdown forced it to conduct hearing in urgent matters only through video conferencing.

Days after the Delhi High Court and the subordinate courts suspended the summer vacation this year to make up for the loss of working days due to the lockdown, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) had urged Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde and his companion judges to declare cancellation of summer vacation of the top court.

The SCBA had requested that the period of summer break in the apex court be treated as working period in the larger interest of the litigants.

Not only the SCBA, some eminent advocates, including Rakesh Dwivedi and Dinesh Goswami, had also written to the CJI voicing their concern over hampering of judicial work due to closure of courts amid the lockdown.

In the Delhi High Court, hearing on various important cases, including plea for action against those involved in the North East Delhi riots and protests and violence near Jamia Nagar against the newly-enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), have been adversely affected due to the lockdown. The matters, listed for hearing in March, were adjourned for different dates in April.

While various petitions in the North East Delhi riots and Jamia violence were adjourned to April 21, hearing on the bail plea of Christian Michel James, an alleged middleman arrested in connection with AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, was put up for April 20.

The high court on March 25 extended till May 15 all the interim orders, which were to expire on or after March 16, in cases before it, as also the district courts, as litigants would not be able to appear in such matters due to the restrictions imposed in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

The high court, which is now only hearing urgent matters via video conferencing, had on April 9 decided to suspend its summer vacations from June 1 to 30.

It has also cancelled the summer break of subordinate courts.

Meanwhile, the court took note of the plight of undertrial prisoners languishing in jails despite grant of bail as they were unable to furnish a surety bond. In such cases, the HC said on April 9 that such prisoners be released on personal bonds furnished by them.

The usually active National Green Tribunal is also not holding judicial proceedings in view of the lockdown.

The tribunal was monitoring several important cases related to environment, including cleaning of Ganga and Yamuna.

The Delhi trial courts, which had been hearing several important cases like the North East Delhi riots just before the lockdown was announced, are also finding it tough to function as video conferencing facilities often do not work properly.

The fast track courts, which hear matters of rape and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) cases, on a regular basis have also hit a roadblock. The trials in such sensitive cases have also been postponed till May.

The postponement of cases in district courts would give rise to pendency. Just before the country faced the unprecedented health crisis, north east Delhi had witnessed communal violence over the Citizenship Amendment Act, in which at least 53 people were killed and several injured.

The Delhi Police had registered around 690 FIRs in the case and about 800 people were arrested.

Those arrested are currently in judicial custody and their interim orders will continue till May 15.

The lockdown has also put a stop on the hearing in cases of INX media involving senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, his son Karti and others; the Sunanda Pushkar death case and the VVIP chopper scam.

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