Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud on Sunday said increased government action might be necessary during a public health crisis, but it is also the duty of the courts to ensure accountability and protect rights of its citizens, The Indian Express reported.

The judge was speaking at a webinar organised by students of the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research in Hyderabad. “All emergencies, including a public health crisis that we are in vest substantial powers in the executive,” he said. “During a public health crisis, increased government action may be necessary to preserve public health and welfare. However, irrespective of governmental action and restrictions, it is above all, the duty of courts – civil, criminal and constitutional – to protect the rights of citizens and ensure governmental accountability and the rule of law.”

His comments came after the Supreme Court on May 15 dismissed a petition seeking directions to the Centre to provide food and shelter to migrant workers on the move, saying it was “impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and not walking”.

Virtual courts and technology

Chandrachud, chairperson of the e-committee that is tasked to oversee the digitisation of the Supreme Court, said an open-court hearing is the “spine” of the justice system and cannot be substituted by virtual courts, Live Law reported. The Supreme Court has been conducting hearings online via video conferencing to adapt to physical distancing measures amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“I want to dissuade people from the idea that virtual court hearings are some sort of a panacea or a formula, which is a substitute for open court hearings,” he said. “We had no choice in the pandemic, but to resort to hearing via video conferencing. They will not be able to replace physical court hearings.”

Chandrachud also said that technology has been “extraordinarily enabling and empowering” for young lawyers, adding that it should unfold the true potential of the justice system. “We must ensure that technological divide should not become a means of exclusion; technology should be used for inclusive justice,” he added.

The judge said technology should be inclusive and replace court procedures into manageable chunks. “Our court procedures are tardy and unintelligible to common people,” Chandrachud said.

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