In a step towards resumption of physical hearings, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that from October 20, all the matters listed on Wednesdays and Thursdays would be heard in physical presence of lawyers and litigants in courtrooms only.
The top court has been hearing cases through video conference since March last year due to the pandemic and several bar bodies and lawyers have been demanding that physical hearings should resume immediately.
In a fresh standard operating procedure (SOP) issued on late evening, the apex court said the decision was taken in view of the encouraging response from the Bar and with a view to further facilitate hearing through physical mode.
"In view of the encouraging response from the Bar and with a view to further facilitate hearing through physical mode, all the matters listed on Wednesday and Thursday, as non-miscellaneous days, would be heard only in physical presence of the counsels/parties in courtrooms," the apex court said in a circular issued on Thursday.
It said all the matters listed on Tuesday, as a non-miscellaneous day, would also be heard in physical mode, however, on prior application by the AOR (advocate-on-record) for the party, appearance through video/teleconferencing mode will be facilitated.
An AOR is a lawyer entitled to act as well as to plead for a party in the Supreme Court.
It said that unless directed by the court, all matters, irrespective of their nature, listed on miscellaneous days shall continue to be heard through video/teleconferencing mode till further orders.
"There may be break(s) for a period of about 15 minutes at the discretion of the bench during the hearings in courtroom in physical mode so that courtroom may be sanitized, for which it is necessary that the entire courtroom be vacated," it said.
It said if the bench is of the view that in a particular matter listed on non-miscellaneous days, the number of counsels is more than the working capacity of the courtroom, according to COVID-19 norms, the Registry will facilitate hearing of such matters through video/teleconferencing/hybrid mode.
In a matter listed for hearing through physical mode, one AOR or his nominee, one arguing counsel and one junior counsel per party will be allowed entry into the courtroom, it said.
It further said that one registered clerk per party, as may be chosen by the AOR, shall also be allowed to carry paper books/journals etc. up to the courtrooms.
"The entry of the counsels into the High Security Zone to appear for hearing through physical mode will be through Proximity Cards/Photo entry passes and for party in person through photo entry passes which will be issued by the Registry as per the practice followed before the onset of Covid-19 pandemic," it said.
It further clarified that the guidelines and protocols for prevention of COVID contagion, including wearing of masks, frequent use of hand sanitizer and maintaining safe distancing norms are mandatory for all the entrants into the Supreme Court premises.
Earlier on August 29, the SC had issued the SOPs to accord final hearing of cases in physical mode from September 1, and employed a hybrid option from Tuesday to Thursday amid strict observance of Covid appropriate norms.