The Orissa High Court on Monday informed the Supreme Court about 20 virtual high courts in several districts of the state having been made functional.
Such courts will be opened in the remaining 10 districts in a phased manner taking into account the number of cases filed there.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, which is dealing with contempt proceedings in a matter related to protests by lawyers last year for establishing a permanent bench of the Orissa High Court in the western part of the state, the high court has given details of the virtual courts made functional.
The affidavit by Pratap Kumar Patra, the registrar general of the high court, said a proposal for virtual high courts in the districts was placed before the apex court on judicial side and it was approved by its December 14 last year order.
“On February 3, 2023, 10 virtual courts in 10 of the 30 districts of Odisha in the first phase viz. Sambalpur, Ganjam at Berhampur, Balasore, Bhadrak, Kalahandi at Bhawanipatna, Khurda at Bhubaneswar, Bolangir, Koraput at Jeypore, Puri and Sundargarh at Rourkela were inaugurated by the Chief Justice of India,” it said.
The affidavit said 10 more virtual courts with back offices were made functional covering nine additional districts in the second phase — Angul, Dhenkanal, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Keonjhar, Kendrapara, Kandhamal at Phulbani, Mayurbhanj at Baripada, Nayagarh and Sundargarh — with effect from March 27.
“It may be submitted here that considering the volume of cases filed from the district of Sundargarh, another virtual court in the district of Sundargarh at Sundargarh which is in addition to the virtual court at Rourkela was made functional on March 27, 2023,” it said.
The matter came up for hearing on Monday before a bench of Justices S K Kaul and Aravind Kumar.
“All the courts are working now?” the bench asked.
The counsel for the high court said the courts are working.
The bench noted in its order that 33 contemnors are stated to not have filed their affidavits in the matter.
“Counsel who seeks to enter appearance on their behalf requests for three weeks’ time to file the affidavits. This is the last opportunity, failing which we will presume that they will have nothing to say and proceed with the contempt petition,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing on August 8.
It noted so far as unserved contemnors are concerned, counsel for the petitioner has submitted he will take steps to serve them the notice.
In its affidavit filed in the apex court, the high court said it has also issued Standard Operating Procedure for advocates and guidelines for the smooth functioning of virtual courts.
It said there may be no need for a virtual court in the district of Cuttack since the high court is established there.
“As regards the remaining 10 districts viz. Bargarh, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Sonepur, Boudh, Gajapati, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada and Rayagada is concerned, the opening of virtual courts will be done in a phased manner taking into account the number of cases filed in the high court from those districts,” the affidavit said.
While hearing the matter on February 6, the apex court had said it will not accept the apologies by members of some bar associations at this stage in the contempt matter and stressed they “must learn to behave”.
The apex court had on December 14 last year issued contempt notices to several lawyers who had participated in the boycott of courts on December 12 last year and indulged in violence.
It was told by an advocate, appearing in the matter, that the the bar members have tendered unconditional apologies.
The top court had earlier observed the demand for establishing a permanent bench of the state high court in western Odisha seems to have become a “prestige issue”, while noting there was no justification for having another bench of the high court in view of the widespread use of technology in the functioning of courts.