Is video conferencing is an alternative to transfer of proceedings?
Power to transfer any proceedings from one court in India to another is vested in the Supreme Court under article 19-A of the Constitution. Similar powers are conferred by Section 25 of Civil Procedure Code. In an earlier case, Supreme Court opined that video conferencing could be a good alternative instead of transfer. It observed:
One cannot ignore the problem faced by a husband if proceedings are transferred on account of genuine difficulties faced by the wife. The husband may find it difficult to contest proceedings at a place which is convenient to the wife. Thus, transfer is not always a solution acceptable to both the parties. It may be appropriate that available technology of videoconferencing is used where both the parties have equal difficulty and there is no place which is convenient to both the parties. We understand that in every district in the country videoconferencing is now available. In any case, wherever such facility is available, it ought to be fully utilised and all the High Courts ought to issue appropriate administrative instructions to regulate the use of videoconferencing for certain category of cases. Matrimonial cases where one of the parties resides outside court’s jurisdiction is one of such categories. Wherever one or both the parties make a request for use of videoconferencing, proceedings may be conducted on videoconferencing, obviating the needs of the party to appear in person. In several cases, this Court has directed recording of evidence by video conferencing.
The advancement of technology ought to be utilised also for service on parties or receiving communication from the parties. Every District Court must have at least one e-mail ID. Administrative instructions for directions can be issued to permit the litigants to access the court, especially when litigant is located outside the local jurisdiction of the Court. A designated officer/manager of a District Court may suitably respond to such e-mail in the manner permitted as per the administrative instructions. Similarly, a manager/information officer in every District Court may be accessible on a notified telephone during notified hours as per the instructions. These steps may, to some extent, take care of the problems of the litigants.
[Source: Krishna Veni Nagam vs Harish Nigam decided by SC on 9 March, 2017]
However the proceedings under Family Courts Act are held in camera and there is provision of mediation etc. Hence the validity of the above view was doubted and matter was referred to a larger bench of three judges which overruled the aforesaid view and laid down as under:
The language employed in Section 11 of the 1984 Act is absolutely clear. It provides that if one of the parties desires that the proceedings should be held in camera, the Family Court has no option but to so direct. This Court, in exercise of its jurisdiction, cannot take away such a sanctified right that law recognizes either for the wife or the husband. That apart, the Family Court has the duty to make efforts for settlement. Section 23(2) of the 1955 Act mandates for reconciliation. The language used under Section 23(2) makes it an obligatory duty on the part of the court at the first instance in every case where it is possible, to make every endeavour to bring about reconciliation between the parties where it is possible to do so consistent with the nature and circumstances of the case. There are certain exceptions as has been enumerated in the proviso which pertain to incurably of unsound mind or suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy or suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form or has renounced the world by entering any religious order or has not been heard of as being alive for a period of seven years, etc. These are the exceptions carved out by the legislature. The Court has to play a diligent and effective role in this regard.
The reconciliation requires presence of both the parties at the same place and the same time so as to be effectively conducted. The spatial distance will distant the possibility of reconciliation because the Family Court Judge would not be in a position to interact with the parties in the manner as the law commands. By virtue of the nature of the controversy, it has its inherent sensitivity. The Judge is expected to deal with care, caution and with immense sense of worldly experience absolutely being conscious of social sensibility. Needless to emphasise, this commands a sense of trust and maintaining an atmosphere of confidence and also requirement of assurance that the confidentiality is in no way averted or done away with. There can be no denial of this fact. It is sanguinely private.
Ultimately the court passed following directions:
(i) In view of the scheme of the 1984 Act and in particular Section 11, the hearing of matrimonial disputes may have to be conducted in camera.
(ii) After the settlement fails and when a joint application is filed or both the parties file their respective consent memorandum for hearing of the case through videoconferencing before the concerned Family Court, it may exercise the discretion to allow the said prayer.
(iii) After the settlement fails, if the Family Court feels it appropriate having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case that videoconferencing will sub-serve the cause of justice, it may so direct.
(iv) In a transfer petition, video conferencing cannot be directed.
(v) Our directions shall apply prospectively.
(vi) The decision in Krishna Veni Nagam (supra) is overruled to the aforesaid extent