J-K chief justice directs courts to strictly adhere to COVID-19 guidelines

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Jammu, Mar 21 (PTI) Jammu and Kashmir High Court Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal on Sunday observed that COVID-19 guidelines are not being strictly adhered to on premises of courts resulting in a considerable rise in footfall, thus increasing the risk of the spread of the coronavirus.

Through an order, he directed that the already issued COVID-19 guidelines for all courts in the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh be followed strictly.

Jammu and Kashmir has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in the past one week. On March 15, the union territory recorded 94 cases of the infection, 97 cases on March 16, 126 cases on March 17, 140 cases on March 18, 152 cases on March 19, 140 cases on March 20 and 158 cases on Sunday.

'It has been observed that the guidelines/directions are not being strictly adhered to resulting in considerable increase in footfall in court premises, thereby enhancing the risk of spread of COVID-19 infection particularly when such infection cases are increasing at an alarming rate,' Justice Mithal said in the order issued here.

Keeping in view the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the already issued guidelines and directions are reiterated and the registrars of both wings of the high court -- Jammu and Srinagar -- and presiding officers of all courts in the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are directed to strictly implement these guidelines, he said.

Entry of litigants and people into court premises is prohibited and only those litigants with compelling reasons are allowed to enter after seeking permission from courts two days prior to the date of hearing, according to the guidelines.

For recording of evidence, entry of witnesses and accused persons was permitted from February 10 after courts opened for physical hearing of cases on February 8. However, their entry was subjected to strict compliance of standard operating procedures (SOPs) related to containment of COVID-19.

Before courts opened for physical hearing after nearly a year-long suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, various guidelines, including those related to entry of litigants and people into court premises, were issued on February 3.

According to the guidelines, 'If, however, any litigant on any reasonable ground is compelled to argue his case personally, he shall be allowed entry into the court premises subject to the condition that he makes an application at least two days prior to the date of hearing through e-mail to the registrar judicial/presiding officer of the court disclosing such compelling reason and seeking permission in that regard.' 'If and when any such application is made by any litigant, the registrar judicial/presiding officer concerned shall consider the same and, if satisfied, may permit such litigant to enter into the court premises and inform the litigant of such order by return e-mail. A copy of such order shall also be sent by the registrar judicial/presiding officer concerned to the incharge, security at the main gate of the court premises for necessary action,' the guidelines stated.

In continuation to the order and with a view to ensure recording of evidence, entry of witnesses and accused persons was also permitted on February 10 subject to the strict compliance of latest SOPs pertaining to containment of COVID-19.

On Saturday, Principal District and Sessions Judge, Jammu, Sanjeev Gupta in a separate order directed judicial officers posted at district court complex in Janipur to ensure that the entry of only those witnesses and accused persons be permitted whose cases are fixed on a particular date and no other person or litigant be allowed to enter in the court complex. PTI TAS ANB ANB