SCBA moves court to quash SOP for hybrid physical hearings from March 15

SOP evolved without a discussion with lawyers, it says.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) moved the court on Monday to quash the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for hybrid physical hearing of cases from March 15.

It said the SOP was evolved without a discussion with lawyers. The SOP involved limited entry into courtrooms in tune with physical-distancing norms and allowed judges on the Bench to decide whether a case should be held virtually or physically.

The association, which has over 13,000 members, said the SOP notified on March 5 was just another instance when the court’s administrative wing – the court registry – did not choose to take lawyers into confidence.

The pandemic had compelled the court to shift to virtual hearings in March last year. Through the past few months, several lawyers’ bodies had individually and jointly met Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde with a plea to resume physical hearings.

‘Younger Bar members hit’

“Most of the high courts have started holding physical courts… The last one year has affected younger members of the Bar. There were a lot of problems with regard to muting and unmuting of lawyers in virtual hearings… It is high time, when every place has started working with safety precautions, normalcy is restored in the Supreme Court,” the SCBA’s writ petition, filed by advocate Rahul Kaushik and settled by SCBA president and senior advocate Vikas Singh, contended.

The March 5 circular on the hybrid physical hearings highlight that the SOP was finalised after taking into consideration the suggestions given by lawyers’ bodies.

However, the petition said the SOP was “unilaterally thrust” upon lawyers on March 5.

The petition urged the court to quash the SOP and make sure that the court registry consulted lawyers before issuing any circulars in future which directly affected the lawyers practising in the court.

The SCBA had, in a press release, said it was “unanimously resolved and decided” to reject the SOP.

Mr. Singh, who has long campaigned for a full return of physical hearings in the court, said the SOP was prepared by the registry despite assurances from the CJI in a meeting on March 1. Mr. Singh reminded that the Bar was an “equal stakeholder” in the justice delivery system.

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