SC closes proceedings on SCBA plea against SOP for hybrid hearing, lawyers' body to write to CJI

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New Delhi, Mar 23 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday closed the proceedings on bar body SCBA's plea challenging the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for hybrid hearing in the court and said that little can be done on the judicial side.

Later in the evening, members of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) held a meeting and unanimously decided to write a letter to Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde, requesting him to hear the grievances of advocates against the SOP and if a meeting is not held then they will take out a peaceful candle march on Thursday.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and R Subhash Reddy said it had endeavoured to facilitate an interaction with the judges' committee so that the problems perceived to be faced by the Bar can be ironed out.

“That course appears not to be acceptable to the Bar,” the bench said, adding that “the aforesaid being the situation, in our perspective, it is not a subject which can be discussed in a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. It relates to the administrative working of the Supreme Court”.

The top court noted that the final view of the seven-judge committee, a panel looking after the resumption of full functioning of the court after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to restrict its functioning, was that it does not find any reason to revisit the issue.

“The final view of the Committee is that since SOP was prepared and published after due consultation with the representatives of the SCBA and SCAORA, the Committee did not find any reason in revisiting the issue and in meeting the representatives of the Bar at this stage”, it said.

The bench said it has been observed by the committee that in case there is any grievance or objection with regard to the functioning of SOP or against any particular part or term of SOP, and if any such issue requires any modification/addition, the same may be placed before it.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who is also the president of SCBA, strongly opposed this approach of the Committee and submitted that the earlier meetings with the Registry have not really considered the perspective of the advocates and the problems being faced by the lawyers.

He said it was his view that the SOP must go as a whole and a fresh SOP must be drawn.

The top court then noted in its order that it put to Singh, whether it would be acceptable to him to make suggestions/modifications in the existing SOP so that the same could be discussed with the Registry and thereafter placed before the Committee as recorded in the minutes dated March 19.

Singh said this course is not acceptable to him and he would like to discuss the matter only with the Judges’ Committee.

“The result is that there appears to be some kind of impasse on this issue as the course suggested by the Committee is not acceptable to the representatives of the Bar,” the bench said, while disposing of the plea.

Singh, who took objection to the order passed by the bench, said, “We have no choice but to take agitation path. If your lordship feels that Supreme Court is above the law, we will take the law in our own hands”.

Justice Kaul, took objections to the submissions of Singh and said, “this approach of yours will take you nowhere”.

In its order, the top court noted the number of meetings held by the judges committee and said that minutes of such meetings indicate the representatives of the bar participated in the consultation process leading to finalisation of the SOP.

Later in the evening, SCBA members held the meeting and decided to write to the CJI and to take out peaceful candle march on March 25, from the Supreme Court premises to the India Gate to show solidarity against the SOP.

On March 16, the top court has said its judges committee, be requested to listen to the bar members to resolve differences on the new SOP on commencement of hybrid hearing of cases.

It had asked the secretary general of the apex court to request the judges' panel to hear the members of the new committee of the SCBA, which has alleged that they were not consulted while finalisation of SOP on hybrid hearing.

On March 12, the top court had orally observed that its SOP on commencement of hybrid physical hearing from March 15 would go if it has been framed without consulting the bar body.

It had sought minute of the meetings held by the judges committee and said that the court will look into whether bar members were consulted or not.

The top court, which has been hearing cases through video-conferencing since March last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, came out on March 5 with the SOP and a day after, the newly-elected executive committee of SCBA rejected it in an emergent meeting.

'On an experimental basis, and as a pilot scheme, the final hearings/regular matters listed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays may be heard in the hybrid mode, as may be decided by the bench, considering the number of parties in a matter as well as the limited capacity of the courtrooms; all other matters, including those listed on Mondays and Fridays, shall continue to be heard through video/tele-conferencing mode,' said the SOP issued by the apex court. PTI MNL ABA SA