The Bombay High Court, on Monday warned lawyers and litigants that it would not take up any case for hearing if physical distancing norms are not followed inside the courtroom in the interests of everyone’s health and safety.
A division bench led by Justice S S Shinde, which is assigned to hear criminal cases, on Monday observed and raised concerns over crowding in the courtroom and asked his staff to ask police officers, advocates and litigants awaiting their turn inside the courtroom to wait outside and enter the room as per serial numbers.
“Do not crowd in the court, or else, we will discharge the entire board and not hear any case,” Justice Shinde said, adding that overcrowding and lack of physical distancing norms was in breach of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the HC for resumption of physical hearings.
“If there is breach of social distancing, we will not hear any matters. The SOP and social distancing is for everyone’s health and safety. We sit in a distance,” said Justice Shinde and also referred to 60 lawyers in Amravati district who contracted Covid-19, leading to a closure of the physical hearing there.
“Fortunately, here we have not had any untoward incident. We are going in the right direction and we do not want to go back to hearing cases virtually,” Justice Shinde said and asked everyone, including lawyers, to wear masks at all times, even at the time of arguments.
The HC, at its principal seat in Mumbai, had resumed physical hearings for almost all cases since December 2020.
While Covid-19 cases are rising in Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra, Justice Prithviraj K Chavan of the HC last week pulled up a lawyer and refused to hear a plea by de-listing it from the board after the advocate, who was present inside courtroom, removed the facemask despite guidelines.
Justice Chavan had referred to the SOP guidelines, which mandated ‘strict norms’ of physical distancing, and also stated that entry into the courtroom for attending physical hearings would be restricted to advocates, registered clerks of lawyers for limited purpose of delivering bulky case papers, and parties appearing in person without any legal assistance.
On February 17, Justice Gautam Patel of the HC had issued notice complaining of overcrowding in the court and directed everyone to strictly adhere to social distancing norms. Justice Patel had also warned if the norms were not observed, his court would immediately suspend all physical hearings and go back to the virtual mode.
Only those who had cases listed in his courtroom should enter and they must “strictly adhere” to safety norms, Justice Patel said in the notice.
In light of the observations made in the morning, the bench led by Justice S S Shinde, on Monday evening issued notice stating that from March 2, only 60 matters will be listed in its courtroom with 12 matters being taken up for hearing every hour and warned that all Covid-19 preventive norms be strictly followed. The bench also asked lawyers and litigants appearing person to co-operate with the court staff to maintain discipline and physical distancing inside the courtroom as well in the corridor in front of it.