Hearings via Video Conference

In continuation of the last month’s (May, 2020) Editorial by respected madam Prem Lataji Bansal – Sr. Advocate and one of our active Past President, I would supplement my thoughts on the same subject though on an entirely different but consequential aspect to Covid – 2019 in relation to Advocates in general and tax professionals in particulars.

  1. We are presently under complete lockdown from 24th March, 2020, though some of the parts of our country have been partly or fully unlocked from 1st June, 2020. Major affected places like Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat and TamilNadu continue to be under lockdown with partial relaxation for persons rendering essential services. It is regrettable to note that advocates and their staff are not covered under the said category for travelling by suburban trains in Mumbai therefore in those areas normal professional activities cannot be restored.

  2. During the lockdown period, the courts as well as tribunal did take up cases requiring immediate interim orders, only through video conferences; so effective physical practice have come to a grinding halt since March, 2020.

  3. Hearings through video conferencing is not so simple. It is easier said than done. Supreme Court, various High Court and tribunals have adopted separate procedure that have to be followed whenever an urgent matter is desired to be heard by litigant through his advocate.

  4. For proper appreciation of the procedure, I would in nutshell, refer hereunder the procedure framed by Hon’ble Bombay High Court.

  5. Hon’ble Chief Justice nominated designated Hon’ble Judges with specific assignments to have video conference hearing only urgent matter on notified working time and date.

  6. In case the matter happen to be a fresh case, the advocate will have to submit a precipe in advance, after payment online of prescribed court fees. Duly signed soft copy of the Petition in PDF Format with an undertaking to submit hard copies on restart of regular court after the lock down period have to be submitted. All annexures are to be in additional volumes also in soft copy and that too in PDF Format.

  7. In case pending (i.e. already registered) matters if required to be taken up in case of urgency, a precipe have to be emailed in advance before 11 am on an earlier day to the specified ID against the category to the matter.

  8. The precipe should contain maximum three names of advocates with their email Ids, who would attend the matter at video conference hearing. The Advocates have also to mention their Bar Council Enrolment number and phone number with soft copy of photo ID.

  9. If the Hon’ble Judge allow the precipe, time slot and the date for hearing will be communicated with link and PIN of video conference room. Such details are not to be shared except for giving notice to the other side. At the time slot the link and PIN have to be connected. There are quite many other technical details that have to be complied with while hearing. For those litigants, who do not have internet facility but require their matter to be heard urgently can approach the specified separate court room where such facility would be provided.

  10. I referred to the procedure for the benefit of our members who seek urgent hearing of any of their matter in case of emergency during the lockdown period.

  11. It is needles to mention that dress code have to be strictly adhered to. An undesirable incident happened in the case of Shri. Madhu Sharma vs. Manoranjan Sharma (Transfer Petition Case No.755 of 2019). In that case the concerned advocate started video conference with an Hon’ble Judge while in his bed room with Tshirt on. The Hon’ble Judge upon observing cavalier and casual fashion of the advocate, adjourned the matter and initiated a contempt proceedings against the concerned advocate. Ultimately the case reached the Supreme Court on 15th June, 2020, when the said advocate remained present and tendered unconditional apology mentioning that it was inappropriate for him to appear before the Hon’ble Judge while lying on bed dressed in a T-Shirt. In the interest of justice the Supreme Court accepted the apology so tendered but reemphasised that the minimum court etiquette in term of what can be considered to be a decent dress, background etc., have got to be followed scrupulously.

  12. The moral of the story is that the litigants and their advocates should not take video conference hearing in a very causal manner but the same is require maintenance of the decorum and dignity of the court considering the seriousness of the proceedings before the court.

  13. I hope my reference to the above case will receive due notice by all our members who may have occasion to approach a court via video conference hearing in case of urgency like unwarranted attachment of the bank account at the instance of tax authorities (E.g. the case of M/s. Kaish Impex Pvt. Ltd. vs. Union of India) (2020) 74 GSTR 28 (Bom).

  14. A welcome step is taken by Delhi High Court through its Circular No. 01/IT/DHC/2020 dated 20th June, 2020by offering links for public view in during of court hearings through Video Conferences so as to observe the requirement of an open court proceedings. Those interested have to contact the concerned Court Master on their mobile phone numbers duly published on the cause list latest by 9:00 pm of an earlier day or before 10:00 am of the date of hearing but no such link will be offered after the commencement of the hearing.

  15. While concluding I wish one and all to observe and follow the concerned State Government Guidelines, in regard to their activities of moving out of the house for undertaking any professional work.

Mumbai    P. C Joshi
Date : 22.06.2020    Member, Editorial Board

Comments are closed.