Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya of the Calcutta High Court on Monday released a matter in which he had passed caustic observations in an order over connectivity issues during virtual hearings, while expressing reservations about the way it was assigned to a division bench by the Acting Chief Justice, the “master of roster”.
Justice Bhattacharyya had on July 16 directed the central project coordinator to show cause in writing as to why criminal contempt proceedings should not be drawn up against the High Court Administration including the Registrar General (RG) over disruptions in virtual court hearings.
In an order on Monday, Justice Bhattacharyya said that at no point of time, he was ever contacted by the RG or the “Acting Chief Justice through His Lordship’s Secretary or OSD (Officer on Special Duty) seeking either my consent or at least having the courtesy to inform me about such assignment.”
This, he said, negates his judicial order in administrative capacity.
“I have serious doubts about the transparency of the system of dispensation of justice in our court in view of the above chain of events,” Justice Bhattacharyya said in the order.
He released the matter and ordered that the records be sent to the division bench to which it was assigned “in deference to the mandate of the Master of Roster”, maintaining that he has not learnt to violate judicial decorum and propriety.
“It is evident that since we have restricted hearings to virtual appearances and stopped altogether physical appearances before the High Court, access to justice is being denied to most litigants and advocates coming from distant places and being technically and financially challenged,” the judge observed.
A coterie of members of the Bar and a limited few of the litigants are having an “undue monopoly” in virtual hearings, thereby depriving the common citizen of access to justice before this court, which is included in their right to life and equality before the law as guaranteed by the Constitution, he said in the order.
Justice Bhattacharyya said that no division bench can have determination to take up civil revisional applications.
“I felt it most indecent that, without showing the minimum courtesy of contacting me directly, the matter was sought to be assigned before some other Bench,” the judge said.
He said that the power of assignment springing from the “Master of Roster” concept “confines the Chief Justice’s administrative power to assign specific Benches for taking up specific types of matters, which cannot be exercised at the whims of the RG (registrar general) or even the Acting Chief Justice.”
The matter was assigned to a division bench comprising justices Harish Tandon and Subhasis Dasgupta, which directed that it be listed for hearing after a fortnight.
In his Friday’s order, Justice Bhattacharyya had observed that despite “tall talks” about achievements of virtual hearing facilities and restricting hearing of litigations entirely to virtual hearings, it is unfortunate that the court is unable to provide the minimum virtual services and connectivity in order to ensure that justice is rendered appropriately.
“I personally feel guilty, as a part of this Court, since disruption and interference in functioning of Courts, in whatever form, might amount to criminal contempt, he had said.
“Sitting in court and playing dumb charades during virtual hearings with the advocates, due to major disruptions in virtual services, has become a joke by now and does not tantamount to adjudication of matters but is a mere circus on show before the public, his order had stated.
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