CJI unhappy with new virtual hearings’ software

‘Take out this software and bring the old one,’ he tells SC officials

Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana on Friday expressed his dissatisfaction in open court over the software newly put in place in the Supreme Court for virtual hearings.

“Take out this software and bring the old one. I am very unhappy with this one,” Chief Justice Ramana was heard telling the court officials and technicians present in the courtroom.

While the court stoically transformed from physical to virtual mode nearly two years ago without losing a single day’s work in the face of a debilitating pandemic, it seems to have not settled into a suitable software. Though the court began hybrid physical-virtual hearings from September 1, the virtual mode continues to be in vogue amidst reports of a third wave.

The CJI’s remark has come within days of the court moving to Cisco from the previous one – Vidyo. In fact, a few days ago, some senior lawyers, who had been unhappy with Vidyo, were seen commending the shift to Cisco.

Months of virtual court hearings through Vidyo had seen lawyers complain of poor connectivity, echoes and other disruptions. On several occasions, judges too had recorded their unhappiness about the technical interruptions during hearings.

In fact, in January, a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul took an exasperated poke at the virtual court system. “We, at the inception, must note our exasperation at the inability of the virtual court system to work satisfactorily in the Supreme Court while there are no such problems in the Delhi High Court next door! We have been since yesterday trying to cope with the problem of disconnections, resonance of voices, even when there is single person arguing… The only voice we hear is the resonance of our own voices!,” it observed.

App for journalists patchy

The court’s mobile app for journalists to view virtual hearings, which was launched in May keeping in mind the health and convenience of reporters during the pandemic, has unfortunately been patchy. There were days when several courtrooms were not accessible on the app. Special Bench hearings was invariably unavailable on it.

After the introduction of Cisco, the number of courtrooms available through the mobile app have diminished with each passing day. As on Friday, only three of a total 14 virtual courts were available on the app. Reporters have gone back to depending on lawyers for virtual court links in order to cover crucial hearings.

Chief Justice Ramana, while launching the mobile app, had highlighted the need for transparency. “The role of the media assumes importance in the process of disseminating information,” he stressed. The initiative to launch the mobile app for journalists came after he had heard that reporters were depending on lawyers for video links of virtual hearings, he said.

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