NEW DELHI: Welcoming the temporary shift to virtual hearings by courts, former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi Friday said it should be integrated with physical functioning of courts once they re-open.
The senior Supreme Court advocate delivered a Keynote Speech during a session on “Justice Delivery in Covid-19 Days” in a webinar organised by Bennett University.
“This system must remain even if we bring the physical system back. My advice to the powers that be is – integrate both systems. Maybe reserve one day for only hearings conducted through video conferencing, so that people who want to stay and argue from home or office, can do so,” the senior lawyer opined.
Sharing his experience in appearing before SC and high courts by video conferencing, Rohatgi said it was in the first week of May that lawyers started slowly and shakily arguing urgent matters through the application developed by SC. “Here you have to be precise and concise…judges are sitting in homes, may not have access to all law books. One has to be to the point. This is that way a better, cheaper and more integrated system, it is also good for the environment,” he maintained.
There was no more rushing to courts, jostling with lawyers, wearing gowns, with lawyers and judges participating in court hearings from their homes or offices. “Suddenly in a matter of two months, all that seems to be a distant past,” the former AG said, adding that there are no lawyers army per case crowding his office or even the courts. “Not meeting any client or junior, getting case files electronically. We have done away with the dress…no butterfly collar. Filing is only e-filing so imagine the amount of paper and trees that are being saved in this country. Physical impact on the environment is now so less,” he elaborated.
Rohatgi stressed that during online hearings, there can be no interruptions. “So everybody gets his chance to address the court…that way its a boon for younger lawyers, senior lawyers can’t browbeat on video conferencing, I think junior lawyers must take full advantage of this current system, they should take to it like fish to water.” Listing some of the benefits of virtual hearings in his view, the seasoned lawyer noted that lawyers from mofussil towns can argue before SC or even state HC’s by connecting from remote locations, they don’t need to come to Delhi.
“You don’t have to engage a Mr Rohatgi if you feel you can argue yourself before the SC and HC’s. That way the cost of litigation has become cheaper because lawyers need not travel and this part of the client’s fee is saved,” he elaborated.
Comparing how the Covid 19 lockdown led to natural cleaning of the Ganga river, Rohatgi said the same has happened in virtual integration of the judicial system. “Heartening to note that what 15 years of govt intervention and 15000cr couldn’t do, the lockdown has done, where Ganga has healed itself. Similarly, what 10 years of connecting courts by e-system and by different committees, paperwork couldn’t do, it has been done in 8 weeks. Because necessity is the mother of invention. No court is unconnected…district judges, Munsif, high courts , Supreme Court have all got connected. That’s why this system must remain even if we bring the physical system back,” he explained.
Rohatgi batted for allowing the common public to also watch court proceedings online. He said live streaming of court proceedings will ensure that lawyers and “also at times judges, will behave when there is public scrutiny.” Other speakers at the webinar were advocate Vishwajith Sadananda and academic Swapna Sundar who also expressed their views on the role and limitations of technology during the Covid 19 crisis.