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COVID-19: Advocates, litigants not to be asked to appear physically without consent, says Delhi High Court

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COVID-19: Advocates, litigants not to be asked to appear physically without consent, says Delhi High Court 2

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court has said a litigant or an advocate cannot be asked to appear physically before the trial court amid the COVID-19 pandemic unless all the parties consent to it. Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva made it clear that in view of the high court advisories, the parties cannot be asked to appear physically unless it is modified.

However, recently the high court has issued a fresh advisory that in case parties do not appear even through virtual mode even after being intimated, the trial court is free to proceed in accordance with law, the judge said.

“In view of the above, the trial court is directed to take up the proceedings through video conferencing and not to list the proceedings for a physical hearing unless all the parties consent to the same,” the high court said in a recent order.

The order came on a plea where the petitioner was aggrieved by a trial court’s November 23 order directing listing of an over 40-year-old civil suit, relating to a property comprises of a graveyard, masjid and dargah of the revered Sufi Saint Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah (R.A.), for a longer date.

Advocate M Sufian Siddiqui, representing petitioner Muhammad Ajmal, submitted that the suit was filed as far back as on February 16, 1980 and has been pending since then.

He claimed that the respondent after getting interim protection in July 1982, has been delaying the progress of the suit.

The submission was disputed by the counsel for the respondent, who was the original plaintiff in the suit before the trial court, and said the progress was delayed as the proceedings had been adjourned sine-die in view of the pendency of another case.

The high court, however, said without getting into the controversy and since the suit has been pending for over 40 years, the trial court is directed to expedite the proceedings and endeavour to conclude the same preferably within six months.

Siddiqui told the high court that the suit has been listed before the trial court on December 19 for a physical hearing and in view of the present pandemic, it would not be possible to physically appear in the proceedings.

He urged that the trial court be directed to take up the suit through video conferencing.

The high court allowed the plea and asked the trial court to take up the proceedings through video conferencing and added, “Accordingly, list the suit for directions before the trial court on December 15 to set up a schedule for expeditious disposal as directed.”

The plea, in the high court, said the trial court committed an error by not putting the suit which is more than 40 years old on fast track for expeditious disposal and adjourned it to a long date instead of giving a short date, whilst completely overlooking the directions of the State Court Management Systems Committee (SCMSC) of the high court.

It referred to minutes of the meeting of the committee where it has been laid down that cases more than 10 years old have to be put on fast track for expeditious disposal and besides short dates other steps would also be undertaken for expeditious disposal.

It claimed that the suit property in Paharganj is not a private property and it is a duly Gazette Waqf property open to general public, which comprises of a graveyard, masjid and dargah of the revered Sufi Saint Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah (R.A.).

The plea claimed that “the plaintiff society Anjuman Qabristan Dargah Hazrat Khwaja Baki Billah and its purported members are rank encroachers on the same against whom the Delhi Waqf Board has already initiated eviction proceedings” under the Waqf Act.

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