Justice DY Chandrachud said virtual court hearings cannot replace or be a substitute to physical courts as it constitutes the spine of the judicial system.
Sitting Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud said increased action on part of the government is required during a public health emergency such as the one the country is currently facing, but it is the duty of courts to ensure accountability and protect rights of citizens.
Speaking at a webinar organized by Nyaya Forum of National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad on the topic ‘Future of Virtual Courts and Access to Justice in India’ on Sunday, he said that all emergencies, including a public health crisis that we are in “vest substantial powers in the executive”.
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“During a public health crisis, increased government action may be necessary to preserve public health and welfare. However, irrespective of governmental action and restrictions, it is above all, the duty of courts — civil, criminal and constitutional — to protect the rights of citizens and ensure governmental accountability and the rule of law,” Justice Chandrachud said.
With the coronavirus outbreak having disrupted not just normal lives but the justice delivery system as well, Justice Chandrachud, who heads the e-committee of the Supreme Court that is tasked with overseeing the digitisation of the court, said that virtual court hearings cannot replace or be a substitute to physical courts as it constitutes the spine of the judicial system.
He said virtual court hearings started because Covid-19 descended without warning and “we had no other choice”.
“I want to dissuade people from the idea that virtual court hearings are some sort of panacea. We had no choice in the pandemic but to resort to this. They will not be able to replace physical court hearings,” he said.
“We had to protect those who come to court – lawyers, litigants, media personnel, para-legal, interns,” the Justice added.
The Supreme Court is under complete shutdown due to the coronavirus threat and shifted to virtual court hearings in order to keep the virus at bay and ensure safety of lawyers, litigants and judges. In a circular issued on March 23, the court had suspended entry of lawyers and litigants inside the court premises and directed that only extremely urgent cases will be taken up for hearing. These cases are being heard by the top court video conferencing without the personal presence of lawyers.
Going by the seniority, Justice Chandrachud is in line to become the Chief Justice of India on November 9, 2022 and remain in office for a duration of two years.