Virtual hearings are here to stay?

Law gavel on white.

As it is known, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of millions around the globe and is not showing any signs of diminishing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even called the pandemic as an unprecedented global crisis. If history has taught mankind anything, it is that unprecedented challenges have always led to unprecedented initiatives. One such unprecedented initiative is the use of virtual hearings in the Indian legal system.

Notably, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) in its order dated May 11, 2020 stated that all judicial work including hearings shall be conducted only by video conferencing until further notice. This is a welcome move considering the state of affairs of the tribunal. IPAB is notorious for its dysfunctional state in the recent past and pendency of cases, the same was pointed out by Justice Prathiba Singh in the order dated October 23, 2019.

Surely, the virtual hearings can help in mitigating the inefficiency of IPAB. It shall be noted that the virtual hearings have injected fresh blood in the judicial processes across the country as can be witnessed in the number of cases disposed by the High courts, District courts and Tribunals during this period. Additionally, the virtual hearings minimizes the logistics involved as compared to physical hearing, thereby reducing the operating costs and time.

Recently, a parliamentary panel headed by MP Bhupender Yadav has advised various tribunals such as NCLAT, TDSAT and IPAB to do away with physical hearings.

The report by the parliamentary panel dated Sep 11, 2020 reads as follows,

“The Committee is also of the opinion that Virtual Courts can be extended permanently to various Appellate Tribunals like TDSAT, IPAB, NCLAT etc., located across the country which do not require personal appearances of the parties/advocates. Permanent Virtual Courts can also be established for hearing matters relating to Administrative and other Tribunals at the time of final hearing,”

The virtual hearings, which was considered a temporary solution, may soon become permanent even after the pandemic is over.

The report further added that such step will not only cut down the operating costs but also increase the efficiency of the tribunal in disposing the cases.

“The expenditure involved in the establishment of a large number of Tribunals/Courts can be cut down sizeably. This will also reduce the crowd in the court and cut down other litigation costs and overheads,” the report added. 

Apart from cutting down costs and decreasing the pendency of cases, such virtual courts/hearings will increase transparency and may encourage more parties to pursue their cases even after an adverse decision is issued by the Intellectual Property Office.

Soon, virtual hearings may become a norm even after the pandemic provided the associated technological challenges such as data privacy, fast internet connection, etc. are addressed. IPAB’s decision in this matter of completely doing away with physical hearings may serve as a precedence to the Intellectual Property Office. It shall be noted that even though virtual hearings may offer numerous benefits over physical hearings, the idea of completely doing away with physical hearings remains moot.

We hope this article was a useful read. 

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