Author: Aman Tolwani, Advocate
March 24, 2020 was the day the nation of India first came across the news of country going under strict lockdown, meaning thereby restriction of movement which meant for professional practising law was “to not practice” as for a brief period of time the authors also found it difficult to learn the art of advocacy. However, the difficulty gave birth to the current ease of access which earlier law practitioner thought to be improbable.
The moment restrictions were imposed courts and tribunals across India adjourned the listed matters to a future date possibly till the time matters could be called out again. In the effort of curbing the effects of then ongoing Pandemic, restrictions were further imposed by the government and not just the government courts across the nation started issuing guidelines and protocols to be followed initially relating to curbing of disease and further on published standard operating procedures in relation to listing of matters, filing of matters, appearance of litigants and/ or parties etc.
In and around May 2020 courts and tribunals started taking on urgent matters through online mode, wherein litigant or parties where to appear before the said court/ tribunal through various video conferencing modes such as cisco webex, Microsoft teams to name a few. This gave the authors much needed opportunity to appear before the said courts/ tribunals without having to face the stage fright which most first generation Advocates endure while appearing in the initial years before the courts.
The advancement brought along with it certain challenges other than network stability such as the following:
Maintaining Decorum of the court: The first and foremost challenge came as to how decorum of court is to be maintained, since there is no physical court many Litigants did not paid much heed towards respecting the court, including improperly dressing before the court (missing neck band etc.), paying no heed towards background (including background noises, or appearing from not so subtle place).
In the end going forward courts have mandated the litigants to appear before courts through video conferencing by maintaining proper decorum of the court as if appearing physically, including restricting litigants to log in via their phone and appear only through Laptop/ Desktop so that the litigants are heard clearly.
Filing and Listing of matters: On many occasion courts found themselves under predicament initially as to how to go about accepting certain filing of application. Although, e-filing has been an already known concept with courts, e-filing began a long time ago but litigants still relied on physical mode of filing and rightly so the court staff preferred physical filing more often.
Going forward courts mandated a proper electronic filing of application/ petition etc. through dedicated portal along with physical filing and matters are listed accordingly soon as defects, if any are cleared from said filing.
Appearance before the court: Previously if any litigants due to certain unenforceable circumstances was unable to physically attend the hearing was given a next date which lingered on cases for a longer period of time but with the introduction of video conferencing such problems were resolved as litigants could appear from any corner of the globe (provided a strong internet connectivity and access to files).
Somehow this was also mishandled as with ease human nature is to get more lethargic, the purpose of introducing video conferencing was so that the ongoing work is not hampered it never meant to completely replace physical appearance before courts. Many litigants and parties hesitated from appearing before the court in person only due to the fact that video conferencing is available.
The authors also have encountered various such instances wherein parties resisted from appearing before the court in person and courts had to take hard measures as to passing orders for mandatorily appearing before courts in person.
What we know what we have learned.?
The pandemic taught us that in future any such circumstances may arise which could hamper regular functioning of courts and the situation which we came across in 2020 enabled us, drove us towards carrying day to day court activities to digital mode and that it has been a success and educational, as to next time we will be more prepared and everyone is ready to change their mode of work.
The Secret to efficiency is flexibility, earlier our system was fixed in its ways, the Pandemic forced the system to break traditional norms and work in the situation made available during the time being. An institution may be fixed in its ways but should not resist towards a healthy required change.