MADURAI: It has been more than a year-and-a-half since the Madras High Court shifted to virtual hearings due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Now that the State is gradually returning to normalcy, requests for resumption of physical hearing in courts are growing louder.
The Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (BCTNP), in a meeting on October 8, passed a resolution urging the reopening of the Madras High Court and the Madurai Bench. A similar resolution was passed by the All India Lawyers Union (AILU) in its meeting in Tiruchy last week.
Co-chairman and member of BCNTP B Ashok told TNIE, “Virtual hearings may have helped in disposal of cases during the lockdown but its continuance is against the justice delivery system.” Advocates hail from different regions and backgrounds and not all have good internet connectivity, he said.
Pointing out that a majority of advocates and court staff have received Covid-19 vaccinations, he said physical hearings should be resumed with safety precautions. State Secretary of AILU, advocate L Shaji Chellan too supported reopening of courts as many young advocates are struggling to make ends meet. “When government counsels are present in the open court and get adjournment in some cases, it is difficult for the petitioner counsels to effectively oppose the same through virtual mode. This affects the litigants when there is urgency in the matter. Also, lengthy arguments are not possible in online hearings,” he said.
Chellan also demanded reopening of bar associations and law chambers. Advocates need space to sit and interact with their clients in the court campus, he pointed out. Another issue raised by him was the lack of consultation with the bar while taking such decisions. “Also, regular interactions among advocates got reduced due to the virtual hearings, leading to advocates being unable to discuss and voice their opposition on several matters, including the recent transfer of Justice TS Sivagnanam,” he added.
Advocate K Samidurai of Madurai was concerned about the difficulties faced by advocates for listing old cases. “Mentioning old cases before judges and getting permission to list them has become a tedious task. Many clients lose hope owing to the delay,” he added.
Another advocate S Srinivasa Raghavan voiced similar opinions. “Virtual hearing can never substitute physical hearing. It is only a stop-gap arrangement. Hybrid mode (physical and virtual hearing simultaneously), would lead to greater chaos. Instead, like the Supreme Court, we can conduct physical and virtual hearings on alternative days,” he said. Raghavan also suggested allotting a separate space or facility in the High Court campus for conducting virtual hearing so that advocates may be able to present their case without any disturbance.
‘Young advocates lack understanding’
Chellan and Samidurai also said advocates who have enrolled in the past two to three years do not have proper understanding of the functioning of courts due to the absence of physical hearings