The Allahabad High Court on Monday announced that the court and its offices would be completely closed from April 20 to 24 as a “preventive and remedial” measure in the wake of the second surge in coronavirus in Uttar Pradesh.
After the week-long break, when cases cannot be filed virtually, the court said that it will hear urgent cases through videoconferencing.
As Covid-19 cases and deaths surge, courts across the country are reverting to virtual operations to hear only “urgent cases”. At least nine high courts, including Calcutta, Chhattisgarh, Madras, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab and Haryana HCs, have turned back to a full virtual functioning after briefly opening their premises for physical hearings.
Bar associations had demanded going back to physical hearings, especially in Delhi, after the lockdown was eased last year. While several HCs experimented with a hybrid model, allowing physical hearings in certain cases and virtual hearings in most others, only Karnataka HC is currently operating in a hybrid mode. Following the state-wide lockdown in Maharashtra, the Bombay HC on Monday began hearing only urgent cases virtually – it is sitting only for four hours. This restricted functioning is expected to continue until May 7, although on April 2 the court had announced that “physical hearings will be the norm and virtual hearings will be an exception.”
Gujarat HC its the only high court that did not go back to physical hearings once it began virtual hearings in March last year. The HC also live-steams its proceedings on YouTube to ensure greater accessibility.
In Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, Allahabad and Patna HCs, more than 10 judges have tested positive for Covid-19 over the last one week. The Delhi HC this week is taking up only the “extremely urgent cases” filed this year for urgent hearing after three of its judges tested positive for the infection. With courts also set to break for summer vacation, fewer cases are likely to be heard in the coming months. Tribunals, including the National Green Tribunal and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, have advanced its summer breaks due to rising cases in the national capital.
Last year, the NGT and the National Company Law Tribunal had cancelled summer vacation to compensate for the loss of work days due to imposition of the lockdown to tackle the pandemic.
The restrictive functioning of courts in 2020 significantly added to the backlog of cases, especially in high courts. According to the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), a government platform monitoring judicial data, pendency of cases in 2019-20 increased 20.4 per cent in the 25 high courts across the country. In 2018-2019, it had increased 5.29 per cent.