Deciding body (English)
Type of body
Type of Court (material scope)
Type of jurisdiction
Type of Court (territorial scope)
The petition was filed by an organization of lawyers called "All India Association of Jurists" and the legal reporter Sparsh Upadhyay, challenging a decision of the Uttarakhand High Court to revert to face-to-face hearings, without the partial option of remote hearings. The Supreme Court refused to permit the urgent listing of the plea stating that though virtual court hearings were a fundamental right they were adopted only as an emergency measure in view of Covid-19. Thus, the Court issued notice.
Facts of the case
A writ petition was filed by an organization of lawyers called "All India Association of Jurists" challenging an order of the high court and which sought the relief of a 'Continuance of the Hybrid Model of Hearings with Video Conferencing facilities for all the lawyers and litigants till the final disposal of the Writ Petition on the Merits.' The Supreme Court issued notice to the Bar Council of India, the Supreme Court Bar Association, and four High Courts of a writ petition seeking a declaration that virtual court hearings were a fundamental right. The High Courts of Uttarakhand, Bombay, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala were issued notice on the writ petition.
Type of measure challenged
Measures, actions, remedies claimed
Individual / collective enforcement
Nature of the parties
Type of procedure
Reasoning of the deciding body
The petitioner referred to a case decided by Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai which sought retention of the hybrid options for physical and virtual hearings in courts stating that it enhanced the right to access to justice. The petitioners' counsel sought an interim order to stay the decision of the Uttarakhand High Court but the bench stated that it could not pass any such order at that time.The petitioner added that virtual hearings eased access to justice, which was recognized as a fundamental right. He also referred to a Parliamentary Committee report which suggested that the Courts should retain the hybrid option. In response, the bench observed that virtual court hearings were adopted as an emergency measure in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The petition also averred the denial of access to conducting cases in virtual mode as being akin to a denial of Fundamental Rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
He also argued that denial of virtual access to courts had the effect of denying him freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) as his right to report the proceedings in real-time and on a live basis would be denied.
The plea sought a writ of Mandamus restraining the Registrar Generals of all the 4 High Courts from denying access to virtual courts through Video Conferencing to any lawyer or journalist that intended to opt for the same on the grounds that physical hearings in the High Courts had commenced and were to be preferred.
The petitioners thus pleaded that access to virtual courts for the dispensation of justice by the counsel or the client was an essential facet of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and thus could not be lightly denied to the lawyers.
The respondents’ counsel stated that the livelihood of many lawyers were affected due to virtual hearings. It was also added that in (physical) court eye to eye contact makes the lawyer's arguments more effective.
Conclusions of the deciding body
A notice was thus sent to the respondents seeking their opinion on hybrid hearings. Three weeks time was given so as to submit their stand and an order was passed that Applications for impleadment were allowed.
Fundamental Right(s) involved
- Right to access to justice, to a fair trial and to jury trial
- Right to an effective remedy
Fundamental Right(s) instruments (constitutional provisions, international conventions and treaties)
- Art. 19, Constitution of India
- Art. 2, Constitution of India
Rights and freedoms specifically identified as (possibly) conflicting with the right to health
General principle applied
- Rule of law
Balancing techniques and principles (proportionality, reasonableness, others)
The court balanced the mode of hearings in courts with the current pandemic situation in India and stated that: "Hybrid Modes for hearings have substantially reduced the costs of contesting litigation for litigants as they could engage lawyers of their choice at affordable fees and costs from any part of the State, with whom they were compatible. Therefore, for want of making justice accessible and affordable for each and every litigant, who is the ultimate beneficiary of the whole system, the Hybrid Model must not only be continued as it was in operation earlier, rather it should be further strengthened.”