New Delhi: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the Supreme Court Monday issued fresh guidelines asking all courts across the country to extensively use video-conferencing for judicial proceedings. Also Read - Amid Lockdown, Supreme Court Issues Notice to Centre on Plea Seeking Payment of Wages to Migrant Workers

In the guidelines, the top court said that the congregation of lawyers and litigants must be suspended to maintain social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Also Read - ‘Inspiring Gesture’: PM Modi Thanks Supreme Court Judges For Contributing to PM-CARES Fund

Exercised its plenary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the apex court asked all the high courts to frame a mechanism for use of technology during the pandemic. Also Read - Stick to Official Sources, Avoid Misinformation: Supreme Court Tells Media Outlets

The development comes as the top court has restricted its functioning and is conducting hearing through video conferencing of extremely urgent matters during the lockdown period.

Saying that technology is here to stay, the top court bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said that recent outbreak of COVID-19 has necessitated social distancing and it is necessary to ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of coronavirus.

The court issued guidelines after taking cognizance of a letter written by senior advocate and former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Vikas Singh, who has suggested measures for use of technology for holding hearings in the courts.

The top court bench, which comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, also directed that all courts would maintain helpline for grievances regarding video feed during and immediately after the hearing and they must make appropriate arrangements for litigants, who do not have access to such facilities.

On the other hand, the apex court made it clear that no evidence would be recorded via video-conferencing and if recording of evidence is must in the courts, then the concerned judge would ensure that distance is maintained inside the courtroom.

Talking about the entry restrictions, the top court said that all courts will have the power for restricted entry for the proceedings and to adjourn the hearing, if crowd cannot be managed.

“There is a need to follow social distancing guidelines while maintaining constitutional role,” the bench said, adding, “all hearing in congregation must necessarily be suspended”.

The curt also observed that technology has facilitated accessibility and connectivity and Indian courts have proactive in harnessing technology.