COVID-19: Supreme Court to limit hearing on urgent cases beginning March 16
New Delhi: In the backdrop of the pandemic COVID-19, the Supreme Court on Friday in a notification said it will have limited functioning restricted to urgent matters.
"The competent authority has been pleased to direct that the functioning of the courts from Monday, March 16, shall be restricted to urgent matters with such number of benches as may be found appropriate", said the notification issued by the apex court Secretary General Sanjeev S. Kalgaonkar.
The apex court authorities took into account the office memorandum issued on March 5 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as advisory cautioning against mass gathering and also took cognizance of the World Health Organisation declaring coronavirus as global pandemic.
The WHO said the virus will likely spread to all countries with Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying the situation is likely to worsen.
The SC decision was taken at a high-level meeting comprising apex court judges, senior government functionaries and senior officials of the bar association. A proposal was brought forward recommending extension of the Holi break.
India has quarantined itself by suspending all visas till April 15. The Delhi government has ordered shutting down of schools, colleges and cinema halls. The apex court notification added, "No persons except the lawyers who are going to act in the matter, i.e. either for argument or for making oral submissions or to assist along with one litigant only, shall be permitted in the courtroom."
The apex court through this notification said that the mentioning of matters will be made before the Mentioning Officer. "Considering the importance of the safety measures for health, all concerned are requested to cooperate with the instructions of the staff on duty, in the interest of all", said the notification.
The apex court came to this decision after reviewing the advisory issued by the Centre and in view of the opinion of public health experts including medical professionals and "also considering the safety and welfare of all the visitors, litigants, lawyers, court staff, security, maintenance and support staff, student interns and media professionals."
According to Supreme Court Bar Association Secretary Ashok Arora, a meeting was held on Thursday at the residence of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, which was attended by Justice Arun Mishra, the third senior-most judge, Justice U.U. Lalit and top law officers of the Centre -- Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The meeting was also attended by senior officials of Law and Health ministries. Senior officials of various bar associations of the apex court also attended the meeting. The judges were apprised of the existing situation of coronavirus across the country.
The Supreme Court is slated to reopen after the Holi break on March 16. "Two options were put up before the judges and top law officers: either extend the ongoing vacation or have limited functioning of the court, which does not include hearing of regular matters involving lengthy hearings,", said a source familiar with the discussion.