“It is not the case that Courts are sitting idle, shutting doors”, Madurai Bench defends virtual working of Madras High Court amid COVID-195 min read

By- Akshay Gurnani

“… 5,020 cases (including 1,971 Miscellaneous Petitions) were filed in July 2020 alone, of which, 4,832 cases (including 1,929 Miscellaneous Petitions) were heard and disposed of, via virtual court hearings.” The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court was recently prompted to highlight the progress made in case of disposal during its virtual functioning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, Justice B Pugalendhi observed, “Not only this Court, but in the entire Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, 5,020 cases (including 1,971 Miscellaneous Petitions) were filed in July 2020 alone, of which, 4,832 cases (including 1,929 Miscellaneous Petitions) were heard and disposed, via virtual court hearings.”

The Madras High Court added,“… it is not the case that Courts are sitting idle, shutting the doors.”

The remarks were made while taking critical note of arguments made by a counsel before the Court against taking up a case for final hearing (Anshul Mishra v. The District Collector and 2 ors).

The Advocate had relied on a July 13 circular issued by the High Court to contend that cases can only be taken up for final hearing on the consent of advocates from both sides.

The Court, however, was unconvinced by the submission. The Bench pointed out that the notification had only been issued to redress situations where a counsel may be facing internet connectivity or other practical issues, thereby being prevented from making an appearance before the virtual court.

As such, the notification could not be invoked in this case where both counsel did not face any such difficulty, the Court said.

The Court added, “Fortunately in Tamil Nadu, we are having good internet connectivity facility in almost all places, including some remote villages.”

In this backdrop, Justice Pugalendhi was also prompted to make an appreciative note of the virtual court system in place.

Madras High Court stated, “This Virtual Court is a boon to the entire Legal Fraternity. Even a Mofussil Advocate residing in a remote village in Kanyakumari can comfortably present his case before this Court, the Principal Seat and even before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

Justice Pugalendhi went on to observe that in the past months, the Court has seen counsel representing their cases even while sitting or travelling in cars.

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“Counsel, who are interested in their cases, even if they are staying in remote places, are reaching out to a place where they are having connectivity and are presenting their case comfortably. When this system of Virtual Courts are comfortable for admission for the learned Counsel, this Court fails to understand why it is difficult for them to conduct the final hearing cases.”

On a broader note, the judge took critical note of preceptions that “judges are sitting in ivory towers” and that “they are not inclined to conduct cases.”

Responding to this, the judge said that the Court’s virtual hearing system has proved to be a success, as evident from its case-rate statistics. He added that the reason for case pendency is attributable to the parties to a case as well.

“This case itself is a glaring example as to how the cases are being dragged on by the parties, who are enjoying favourable orders in their favour”, the judge said.

As recorded in the order, the petitioner in the instant case had made oral and written submissions, whereas the respondents were insisting on adjournment in view of the July 13 notification.

“This Court, once again, politely, humbly and firmly reminded the learned Counsel for the respondents that this Court is not for the respondents alone, but is also having a duty towards the petitioner, who knocked the doors of the Court in the year 2016 and waiting for Justice for the past four years”, the judge recorded in his order.

In response to a counsel’s rhetorical query as to what urgency is involved to hear this case since it involves appeals pending since 2014, the Court also added, “It is made clear that this Court is taking up the matters only on a chronological basis and this appeal was also listed for hearing according to the orders of the Hon’ble Administrative Judge… it is because of the respective Counsel, who are taking time by one way or other and for having shown indulgence in certain appeals, we are facing the allegation that we are not disposing of the cases.”

The Bench pointed out that this was the third time that the matter had come before it. In the previous hearing, the Court had rejected a plea for the recusal of the Judge in a detailed order dealing with the merits of the arguments raised on this count.

The Court said,“…. it appears the respondents / accused have dragged this matter by changing the Counsel and engaging different Counsel for the same procedure for the past four years and are seeking adjournment without assigning any reasons,” .

All the same, the Court decided to provide the counsel “one more opportunity” and adjourned the matter by a day, emphasising that it would not hesitate to proceed with hearing the matter if the council chooses not to appear.

“It is the legal obligation on the part of this Court, as per Section 386 Cr.P.C., to proceed with the appeal based on the papers placed before the Court without expecting for the appearance of the appellant or the respondent. If they appear, this Court would hear them, but, if they do not chose to appear, the Courts are not supposed to wait for their submissions. This is a clear mandate provided under Section 386 Cr.P.C”, the Judge pointed out.