Rules Governing Virtual Hearings
The Court of Appeal (Electronic filing and urgent digital virtual hearings) (Special Provisions) Rules, 2021 was published in the Extraordinary Gazette 2216/08 dated 23rd February 2021. The Rules empower the Court of Appeal to hold digital virtual hearings as an interim measure to address difficulties in conducting court hearings in a physical setting, due to prevailing covid related restrictions. Though the Rules were published in February of this year, they are being implemented with effect from 29th June 2021.
The Rules are applicable for inter alia electronic filing of applications, appeals, motions and other documents (ie. affidavits, written submissions and objections) relating to such applications in the Court of Appeal, as well as virtual hearings.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) sought to supplement the Rules by issuing guidelines dated 28th June 2021 to assist lawyers familiarize themselves with the transition from a physical court hearing setting to a virtual one.
The saliant aspects of the Rules including the guidelines issued by the BASL are as follows:
- The Registrar of the Court of Appeal is required to arrange virtual hearings in matters determined to be urgent by the presiding Court of Appeal Judge. Parties to proceedings are permitted to file motions electronically, seeking virtual hearings due to urgency.
- In the process of making arrangements for virtual hearings, parties to proceedings are required to pay the applicable fees (for electronic filings and virtual hearings). Due notice being provided to all parties.
- Every hearing must be conducted in accordance with Article 136 of the Constitution applicable for hearings of the Court of Appeal, and is deemed as proceedings conducted in the Court of Appeal with the physical participation of the Judges and necessary parties to the action.
- Persons including Justices, accredited staff and Attorneys- at -Law whose names, identification and contact details are duly tendered to the registrar shall participate in hearings which must be conducted via zoom. Relevant parties are required to join such hearings 30 minutes prior to the allocated commencement time for each session and Attorneys -at -law are required to be attired in court attire in compliance with the Supreme Court rules. Participants are also required to utilise devices with necessary features (ie; front facing camera, microphone, speakers and access to good internet connection) for the effective conduct of hearings.
- All parties present at hearings are strictly restrained from recording, copying, storing, sharing, broadcasting, telecasting or transmitting hearings in their entirety or partly in any form whatsoever.
- Parties must remain online until the conclusion of the respective hearing unless prior permission of the court is obtained for any deviation. A party experiencing any technical difficult is also allowed to seek the permission of the court to adjourn the hearing until such difficulty is resolved.