The Supreme Court today held that video conferencing cannot be made mandatory in hearing and deciding transfer petitions dealing with matrimonial disputes.
A three-judge bench, in a majority verdict by 2:1, said if the negotiations between husband and wife fails and a joint plea is filed for hearing of the case through video- conferencing, the concerned Family Court may exercise its discretion on holding such hearing.
"In view of the scheme of the Family Courts Act, 1984 and in particular Section 11, the hearing of matrimonial disputes may have to be conducted in-camera...
"After the settlement fails, if the Family Court feels it appropriate having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case that video-conferencing will sub-serve the cause of justice, it may so direct. In a transfer petition, video conferencing cannot be directed," the bench said while making it clear that this would apply prospectively.
Justice D Y Chandrachud, however, dissented and said the Family Courts Act, 1984 was enacted at a point when modern technology was not fully developed.
"Appropriate deployment of technology facilitates access to justice. Litigation under the Family Courts Act 1984 is not an exception to this principle. This court must be averse to judicially laying down a restraint on such use of technology which facilitates access to justice to persons in conflict, including those involved in conflicts within the family. Modern technology is above all a facilitator, enabler and leveler," he said.
Justice Chandrachud said that video conferencing is a technology which allows users in different locations to hold face-to-face meetings and a trial in-camera postulates the exclusion of the public from the courtroom and allows for restraints on public reporting.
"Exclusion of video conferencing in the settlement process is not mandated either expressly or by necessary implication by the legislation. On the contrary, the legislation has enabling provisions which are sufficiently broad to allow video conferencing. Confining it to the stage after the settlement process and in a situation where both parties have agreed, will seriously impede access to justice.
"It will render the Family Court helpless to deal with human situations which merit flexible solutions. Worse still, it will enable one spouse to cause interminable delays thereby defeating the purpose for which a specialised court has been set up," Chandrachud said.
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