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The adoption of hybrid hearings in upper judicial institutions, such as ITAT, marks a significant shift towards leveraging digital systems for dispensing justice. However, despite its intent to streamline proceedings, practical challenges have emerged, hindering its effectiveness. This article delves into the complexities surrounding the hybrid system and offers insights into the practical problems encountered.

Since the last two years, the hybrid system of hearing has been gaining popularity in various upper judicial institutions, particularly in ITAT, the most premium court of law in our country. It is the precursor of this new system where both the contending parties can participate in the cases either physically or virtually by their choices. With our new Honorable CJI of Apex court, who is most appreciated, bound to bring the justice system of the nation to every doorstep by availing the digital system more and more tribunals, and even High courts are moving to the hybrid system. Recently, the Honorable Supreme Court has issued thorough guidelines for the fast implementation of the hybrid system both in the many tribunals as well as in all High courts with a cutoff date of 31st March 2024 without any fail.

Hybrid System of Hearings In Upper Judiciary and Some Practical Problems

Now, being a long-time practitioner in the Honorable ITAT, Kolkata, I have experienced both the old manual system of judicial proceedings as well as the newly introduced digital-based hybrid system and e-filing. Of course, the introduction of the hybrid system was the long-time demand of the ITAT practitioners, particularly those living far from the Honorable tribunal. Within its introduction, this system has provided immense relief both for the practitioners as well as for the Honorable Members who had to travel widely previously to the other circuit benches like Gauhati, Cuttack, Ranchi, and Patna physically, consuming precious time and energy.

But after its introduction in the last one year, one crucial problem has cropped up both for the Bench and Bar. That is, in small cases, which are very limited in numbers in ITAT, virtual mode is sufficient for fast disposal, but in high demand and complex cases, Members are unable to appreciate the merit and documental perspectives of many cases due to the poor adaptation of the new virtual system by many members and showing acute lack of patience to those availing virtual mode of hearing and often are passing orders for the compulsory physical appearance in most of the cases.

As a result, the august and most noble motto of Honorable SC to bring modern technology in aid of fast dispensation of justice to every citizen is practically being turned into futile and non est. In my humble opinion, in view of my concurrent long experience in handling both the lower and higher authorities specifically in assessment and first appeal where a complete digitalized system since 2020 is functioning wonderfully only for the reason of all the proceedings being based upon the written submission which I think is the heart of seamless proceedings.

But in upper judiciary starting from tribunal level to the Apex court, there has been no system of disposal of cases on the basis of written submission which is mandatory for the success of seamless adjudication process. Actually, many members, judges are averse to disposing of the cases on the basis of written submission for the reason of being time-consuming and prefer the old method of physical hearing for the fast disposal of cases and this is the root cause for the failure of virtual system of hearing in upper judiciary and forcing many members to pass a direction for physical appearance before the bench for proper appreciation of a case in gross violation of Honorable Apex court instruction issued on January 2024.

Practitioners are totally helpless since their prime concern is to obtain relief for the appellants/respondents anyhow by abiding by the dictates of the Benches. I have already brought the matter to the kind consideration of Honorable President of ITAT about the practical problems being faced by the practitioners in virtual mode of hearing via email. I think until the system of disposal of appeals on written based pleadings is introduced in the upper judiciary, the hybrid mode of hearing will not bear any positive result and benefits for the assesses who have to bear huge costs for the physical mode of hearing.

Conclusion

The hybrid system of hearings holds promise for enhancing accessibility and efficiency in the upper judiciary. However, practical challenges, including the reluctance to embrace digital processes and the absence of mechanisms for written submissions-based disposal, impede its effectiveness. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort from stakeholders to modernize judicial practices and realize the true potential of digitalization in dispensing justice.

Author Bio

PRACTISING AS A SENIOR ADVOCATE IN HONBLE ITAT, KOLKATA FOR LAS 19 YEARS STEADILY. BEFORE IT WAS IN DELHI HIGHCOURT AND ITAT, DELHI. EX LECTURER OF DEPT. OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF BURDWAN. View Full Profile

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