Virtual hearings return to Bangladesh’s Supreme Court as COVID cases surge

Hearings at the Supreme Court will be held virtually, starting on Wednesday, as coronavirus infections have surged again.

Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique on Tuesday ordered a halt on in-person hearings at the Appellate Division and the High Court Division, the apex court's Registrar General Md Ali Akbar said in a statement on Tuesday.

In-person hearings resumed on Dec 1 last year after virtual hearings for more than a year and a half amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The judiciary went on leave in March, 2020, coordinating with the lockdown imposed by the government in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus infection across Bangladesh. In a sense, the judiciary was shut down for that period.

On May 9, 2020, an ordinance was issued at the request of the Supreme Court to use information technology in court proceedings such as trials, judicial investigations, appeal hearings, hearing testimonies or arguments and also to ensure the presence of all parties while a court issues an order or announces a verdict.

The Supreme Court issued a practice guidance on May 10 for running the court proceedings using digital platforms like videoconferencing.

The virtual court opened the next day, the first of its kind in the history of Bangladesh’s judiciary.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to ebb, some of the lower courts were opened for in-person court proceedings, following strict health protocols.

Gradually some High Court benches were opened for in-person court proceedings. The virtual court, however, continued to run simultaneously.

The Appellate Division and the Chamber Courts, the top courts in the country, were running on virtual platforms.

In an effort to stop the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the government put restrictions on the shopping malls, stores, restaurants and also halted the public transport service in April.

Virtual hearings continued on a limited scale at the time.