COVID-19: SC To Restrict Hearings To Urgent Cases Only

NEW DELHI - Taking note of global pandemic novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Supreme Court on Friday decided that from March 16 it will take up for hearing only urgent matters and no persons except lawyers concerned will be allowed inside its courtrooms.

The apex court, which has been mulling over the issue in its meetings held at the residence of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde on Thursday and Friday, took note of the government's March 5 advisory cautioning against mass gatherings in view of the fact that the World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 a "global pandemic".

The apex court's notification, issued by its secretary general Sanjeev S Kalgaonkar, said it has been decided that its functioning shall be restricted to urgent matters with such number of benches as may be found appropriate.

"On reviewing the advisory issued by the Government of India 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, the Competent Authority has been pleased to direct that the functioning of the courts shall be restricted to urgent matters with such number of benches as may be found appropriate," the notification said.

"It is hereby notified that no persons except the lawyers who are going to act in the matter, that is either for argument or for making oral submissions or to assist along with one litigant only, shall be permitted in the court room," it said, adding that the mentioning of matters for urgent hearing will be made only before the mentioning officer.

The apex court has sought others' cooperation in this regard considering the importance of the safety measures to maintain public health.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) secretary Ashok Arora on Thursday had said that a meeting was held at the residence of the CJI to discuss the coronavirus outbreak and the possibility of limiting the Supreme Court's functioning.

Besides the CJI, Justices Arun Mishra and U U Lalit and Attorney General K K Venugopal, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, SCBA Secretary Arora and officials of Ministry of Health and Ministry of Law attended the meeting to discuss the issue.

It had decided to meet again on Friday to take a decision on the issue.

The number of novel coronavirus cases in India on Friday rose to 81, which includes 16 Italians and one Canadian, Health Ministry officials said.

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