GUIDELINES FOR COURT FUNCTIONING THROUGH VIDEO CONFERENCING DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC 5. Faced with the unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic, it is necessary that Courts at all levels respond to the call of social distancing and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of virus. This is not a matter of discretion but of duty. Indeed, Courts throughout the country particularly at the level of the Supreme Court and the High Courts have employed video conferencing for dispensation of Justice and as guardians of the Constitution and as protectors of individual liberty governed by the rule of law. Taking cognizance of the measures adopted by this court and by the High Courts and District Courts, it is necessary for this court to issue directions by taking recourse to the jurisdiction conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution. 6. Therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred on the Supreme Court of India by Article 142 of the Constitution of India to make such orders as are necessary for doing complete justice, we direct that: i. All measures that have been and shall be taken by this Court and by the High Courts, to reduce the need for the physical presence of all stakeholders within court premises and to secure the functioning of courts in consonance with social distancing guidelines and best public health practices shall be deemed to be lawful; ii. The Supreme Court of India and all High Courts are authorized to adopt measures required to ensure the robust functioning of the judicial system through the use of video conferencing technologies; and iii. Consistent with the peculiarities of the judicial system in every state and the dynamically developing public health situation, every High Court is authorised to determine the modalities which are suitable to the temporary transition to the use of video conferencing technologies; iv. The concerned courts shall maintain a helpline to ensure that any complaint in regard to the quality or audibility of feed shall be communicated during the proceeding or immediately after its conclusion failing which no grievance in regard to it shall be entertained thereafter. v. The District Courts in each State shall adopt the mode of Video Conferencing prescribed by the concerned High Court. vi. The Court shall duly notify and make available the facilities for video conferencing for such litigants who do not have the means or access to video conferencing facilities. If necessary, in appropriate cases courts may appoint an amicus-curiae and make video conferencing facilities available to such an advocate. vii. Until appropriate rules are framed by the High Courts, video conferencing shall be mainly employed for hearing arguments whether at the trial stage or at the appellate stage. In no case shall evidence be recorded without the mutual consent of both the parties by video conferencing. If it is necessary to record evidence in a Court room the presiding officer shall ensure that appropriate distance is maintained between any two individuals in the Court. viii. The presiding officer shall have the power to restrict entry of persons into the court room or the points from which the arguments are addressed by the advocates. No presiding officer shall prevent the entry of a party to the case unless such party is suffering from any infectious illness. However, where the number of litigants are many the presiding officer shall have the power to restrict the numbers. The presiding officer shall in his discretion adjourn the proceedings where it is not possible to restrict the number. 7. The above directions are issued in furtherance of the commitment to the delivery of justice. The cooperation of all courts, judges, litigants, parties, staff and other stakeholders is indispensable in the successful implementation of the above directions to ensure that the judiciary rises to face the unique challenge presented by the outbreak of COVID-19. These directions shall operate until further orders. 8. List the matter after four weeks.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
SUO MOTU WRIT (CIVIL) NO.5/2020
IN RE: GUIDELINES FOR COURT FUNCTIONING THROUGH VIDEO
CONFERENCING DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
O R D E R

  1. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in
    several countries, including India, has necessitated the
    immediate adoption of measures to ensure social
    distancing in order to prevent the transmission of the
    virus. The Supreme Court of India and High Courts have
    adopted measures to reduce the physical presence of
    lawyers, litigants, court staff, para legal personnel
    and representatives of the electronic and print media in
    courts across the country and to ensure the continued
    dispensation of justice.
  2. Every individual and institution is expected to
    cooperate in the implementation of measures designed to
    reduce the transmission of the virus. The scaling down
    of conventional operations within the precincts of
    courts is a measure in that direction. Access to justice
    1
    is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the
    democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India. The
    challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have
    to be addressed while preserving the constitutional
    commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to
    justice to those who seek it. It is necessary to ensure
    compliance with social distancing guidelines issued from
    time to time by various health authorities, Government
    of India and States. Court hearings in congregation must
    necessarily become an exception during this period.
  3. Modern technology has enabled courts to enhance the
    quality and effectiveness of the administration of
    justice. Technology has facilitated advances in speed,
    accessibility and connectivity which enable the
    dispensation of justice to take place in diverse
    settings and situations without compromising the core
    legal principles of adjudication. Indian courts have
    been proactive in embracing advancement in technology in
    judicial proceedings. The Indian judiciary has
    incorporated Information and Communication Technology
    systems through the e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode
    Project (e-Courts Project) as part of the National eGovernance Plan (NeGP). The robust infrastructure in
    2
    place has reduced conventional impediments and legal
    uncertainty surrounding the use of virtual courts. ICT
    enabled infrastructure is available across all courts
    including the district judiciary which constitutes the
    initial interface of the court system with the citizen.
  4. The use of technology found judicial recognition in
    precedent of this Court in State of Maharashtra v Praful
    Desai1. This Court held that the term ‘evidence’
    includes electronic evidence and that video conferencing
    may be used to record evidence. It observed that
    developments in technology have opened up the
    possibility of virtual courts which are similar to
    physical courts. The Court held:
    “Advances in science and technology have
    now, so to say, shrunk the world. They now
    enable one to see and hear events, taking
    place far away, as they are actually taking
    place…Video conferencing is an advancement
    in science and technology which permits one
    to see, hear and talk with someone far away,
    with the same facility and ease as if he is
    present before you i.e. in your presence… In
    fact he/she is present before you on a
    screen. Except for touching one can see,
    hear and observe as if the party is in the
    same room. In video conferencing both
    parties are in presence of each other…
    Recording of such evidence would be as per
    “procedure established by law”.”
    1 (2003) 4 SCC 601
    3
  5. Faced with the unprecedented and extraordinary
    outbreak of a pandemic, it is necessary that Courts at
    all levels respond to the call of social distancing and
    ensure that court premises do not contribute to the
    spread of virus. This is not a matter of discretion but
    of duty. Indeed, Courts throughout the country
    particularly at the level of the Supreme Court and the
    High Courts have employed video conferencing for
    dispensation of Justice and as guardians of the
    Constitution and as protectors of individual liberty
    governed by the rule of law. Taking cognizance of the
    measures adopted by this court and by the High Courts
    and District Courts, it is necessary for this court to
    issue directions by taking recourse to the jurisdiction
    conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution.
  6. Therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred on
    the Supreme Court of India by Article 142 of the
    Constitution of India to make such orders as are
    necessary for doing complete justice, we direct that:
    i. All measures that have been and shall be taken
    by this Court and by the High Courts, to
    reduce the need for the physical presence of
    all stakeholders within court premises and to
    4
    secure the functioning of courts in consonance
    with social distancing guidelines and best
    public health practices shall be deemed to be
    lawful;
    ii. The Supreme Court of India and all High Courts
    are authorized to adopt measures required to
    ensure the robust functioning of the judicial
    system through the use of video conferencing
    technologies; and
    iii. Consistent with the peculiarities of the
    judicial system in every state and the
    dynamically developing public health
    situation, every High Court is authorised to
    determine the modalities which are suitable to
    the temporary transition to the use of video
    conferencing technologies;
    iv. The concerned courts shall maintain a helpline
    to ensure that any complaint in regard to the
    quality or audibility of feed shall be
    communicated during the proceeding or
    immediately after its conclusion failing which
    no grievance in regard to it shall be
    entertained thereafter.
    v. The District Courts in each State shall adopt
    the mode of Video Conferencing prescribed by
    the concerned High Court.
    vi. The Court shall duly notify and make available
    the facilities for video conferencing for such
    litigants who do not have the means or access
    to video conferencing facilities. If
    necessary, in appropriate cases courts may
    appoint an amicus-curiae and make video
    5
    conferencing facilities available to such an
    advocate.
    vii. Until appropriate rules are framed by the High
    Courts, video conferencing shall be mainly
    employed for hearing arguments whether at the
    trial stage or at the appellate stage. In no
    case shall evidence be recorded without the
    mutual consent of both the parties by video
    conferencing. If it is necessary to record
    evidence in a Court room the presiding officer
    shall ensure that appropriate distance is
    maintained between any two individuals in the
    Court.
    viii. The presiding officer shall have the power to
    restrict entry of persons into the court room
    or the points from which the arguments are
    addressed by the advocates. No presiding
    officer shall prevent the entry of a party to
    the case unless such party is suffering from
    any infectious illness. However, where the
    number of litigants are many the presiding
    officer shall have the power to restrict the
    numbers. The presiding officer shall in his
    discretion adjourn the proceedings where it is
    not possible to restrict the number.
  7. The above directions are issued in furtherance of
    the commitment to the delivery of justice. The
    cooperation of all courts, judges, litigants, parties,
    staff and other stakeholders is indispensable in the
    6
    successful implementation of the above directions to
    ensure that the judiciary rises to face the unique
    challenge presented by the outbreak of COVID-19. These
    directions shall operate until further orders.
  8. List the matter after four weeks.
    ……………………………………………CJI
    [ S.A.BOBDE ]
    ………………………………………………J.
    [ D.Y. CHANDRACHUD ]
    ……………………………………………J.
    [ L. NAGESWARA RAO ]
    NEW DELHI;
    APRIL 06, 2020.
    7