Can Virtual Courts Be Extended Permanently To The Tribunals? ITAT To Offer Suggestions To Parliamentary Committee

The department related Parliamentary standing committee on personnel Public grievance Law and Justice has submitted its 103rd report on functioning of the virtual courts/Court proceedings through video conferencing.

Recommendation number 20 made by the committee in the aforesaid report reads as under- 

The Committee is also of the opinion that Virtual Courts can be extended permanently to various Appellate Tribunals like TDSAT, IPAB, NCLAT etc., located across the country which do not require personal appearances of the parties/advocates. Permanent Virtual Courts can also be established for hearing matters relating to Administrative and other Tribunals at the time of final hearing. This will cut down the cost and increase the efficiency in disposal of the cases without being unnecessarily being adjourned. The Committee is also of the opinion that necessary Amendments may be brought in laws to legalise Virtual Courts and its proceedings without being unnecessarily challenged before Courts.

Department-Related Parliamentary standing Committee on personnel, Public Grievances, law and Justice

One Hundred-Third Report on Functioning of Virtual Courts/Court Proceedings through Video Conferencing (Interim Report) dated September 11, 2020

Parliament committee had taken up the subject Functioning of the Virtual/Court Proceedings through Video Conferencing ‘after the COVID -19pandemic.The Committee had a detailed discussion on the subject with all probable stake holders. After discussion, it has decided to present Interim Report on the subject so as to highlight the issues in the present situation. The Committee will deliberate further on these issues and will present its Final Report at later stage after complete deliberation on the subject.

Brief summary is as under

Chapter -I Discusses the Virtual Courts of various countries and India

(United States, Singapore, Turkey, Canada, Italy and Virtual Courts in India)

Chapter -II Challenges of Virtual Courts

(Digital divide, Technological competence, poor Digital connectivity, open court principle, Data privacy and Data security, Indigenous Hard ware and Software, Infrastructural constraint and need for revised policy etc.)

Chapter – III Benefits of the Virtual Courts and way forward
(Management of Docket explosion, Access to justice, Speedy Justice, proportionate justice, Pilot project and the way forward,  The committee also recommended that  Bar Council of India may introduce computer  course as one of the subjects in three year/ five year courses to enable the students to get trained in handling computers and get adapted to the online systems while they pursue the law course. This will help to educate and equip budding lawyers with knowledge and skills required for handling digital platforms .etc)

The Income-tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) invited suggestionson Recommendation of the 103rd report of the department Related Parliament Standing Committee on the Functioning of Virtual Court proceedings through Video Conferencing

The Hon’ble  Mr. Justice P.P Bhatt, President of the ITAT has nominated Hon’bleShri P.M Jagtap Vice -President ITAT Kolkata Zone, Hon’ble Shri N.V. Vasudevan Vice -President ITAT Bangalore Bench and Hon’ble Shri G.S Pannu, Vice President Delhi Zoneto ascertain the views of all the stake holders.

The report of the nominated members to be submitted to the Hon’ble President by December 11, 2020. All stake holders are requested to give their views on or before December 10, 2020to the following mail

The Committee members have arranged the  virtualmeetings withHon’ble Vice-Presidents, Senior Members of the ITAT, representatives ofvariousTax Bar Associations, Departmental Representatives, Representatives ofInstitutes of Chartered Accountants of India and alsofrom the Registry of various Benches.

ITAT has Benches in than 27 locationsand also have 2 circuit Benches.It ishearteningto note thatin two days deliberations more than100  stake holders views have beentaken in to consideration.It was a well organisedand well-designed interactive session taking in to confidence all the stake holders across the Country.

Summary of the suggestions as under:

1. Tax Bar is not opposed to the idea of virtual hearings

2. Option should be given to assesses as well as departmental representatives to choose whether they would like to be  heard by the Physical mode or Virtual mode. Hybrid system should be continued

3. Though the stake involved may be small,  if the assessee requests for  a physical hearing the request should be granted

4. When an assessee or department opt for virtual hearing, and at the time of hearing if they are of the view, they are not able to present properly they may be given an option of going back to physical hearing. When the ITAT started e-Benches there was a specific provision to opt out. This may be continued for virtual hearing

5. When the Hon’ble members decide on virtual hearing, the process of consultation or view of other member cannot be effectively ascertained this is a major disadvantage in virtual hearings. One may have to debate how consultation process can be effectively implemented 

6. Very poor connectivity hence many a times it is difficult to hear the arguments of other side or questions put up by the members in the course of virtual hearing 

7. When the paper book is very voluminous it is very difficult to refer the matter to virtual hearing

8. When case records to be seen and shown to the other side it may not be possible in virtual hearing

9. When case laws are cited at the time of hearing, it may be difficult toread and assertion an whether it is applicable or distinguishable. On physical hearing the Junior lawyer is able to bring the case laws from the library and the arguing counsel is able to say how it is applicable or not applicable. It may be difficult in the course of virtual hearing

10. Many a times when a point is to be explained the counsel has to read the judgements and the members may also have to read with counsel to appreciate the view point, which is very difficult in a virtual set up.

11. Registry-staff is not well equipped to completely change over to virtual mode, they need training and proper infrastructure.

12. Tax consultants are also required to be updated with technology.

13. The ITAT may have to develop separate system for better presentation

14. Confidentiality has to be taken care  in the course of virtual hearing

15. ITAT rules may be amended for the virtual hearing

16. It is suggested that the ITAT Bench may consider appointing amicus curiae to assist the Court. The counsel can be requested to assist from any part of the Country , this may help the Court to deliver a qualitative judgment, when an important question of law is involved

17. In some of the places where load shedding or electricity connectivity is an issue, this needs to be addressed for effective implementation of virtual court hearing

18.  Facilitation center may be established in Each Zone of the ITAT which can be utilized by the tax consultants and tax payers

19. ITAT being a final fact finding authority on direct taxes it decides the facts and law , hence the functioning of the ITAT cannot be equated with functioning of other Tribunals  

20. Where an important issue is involved and if it is affecting large number of assesses. When an assessee is not represented before the Tribunal or in case if represented  the court is  not getting proper assistance it may be desirable for the Bench to request the Bar Members to assist the Bench as amicus curiae. Normally High Courts and Supreme Court follows this procedure. Once the judgement is delivered the it is binding on all the Tribunal till it reversed by the higher forum.

21. Some of the matters which can be heard virtually are:

  • Removal of defects
  • Application for an early hearing
  • Application for consolidation
  • Matters kept for clarifications
  • Stay petitions
  • Miscellaneous applications
  • Covered matters
  • Third member cases where only question which are referred to be decided
  • When Special Benches are heard physically, the intervenors can be given an option to be heard physically orvirtually
  • Matters which are consentedfor both the parties(irrespective of the size &complexities involved)
  • Part heard matters, if it is only for  clarifications

22. For virtual hearing the following suggestions are made:

  • Court decorum must be maintained
  • Guidelines shall be framed
  • Dos and don’t must be drafted and circulated
  • Brief notes on facts and law may be circulated in advance by either side

23. Vision for future

  • Proper infrastructure must be developed
  • ITAT Rules may be amended in consultation with stake holders
  • Digitalization of filing of appeal may be implemented
  • System may be developed that the records of lower authorities may be made available to the ITAT in the digital format
  • Bench clerks and office staff must be trained
  • Court proceedings may be made available to public as well as young professionals who desire to develop the tax litigation practice
  • Tax consultants may be trained in handling computers and get adapted to the online systems ,  with knowledge and skills required for handling digital platforms

Editorial Note: The summary is prepared by the editorial board for the benefit of readers and readers may send their suggestions to the committee of the ITAT or Parliament committee. ITAT Bar Association’s Co-Ordination Committee of the All India Federation of Tax Practioners (AIFTP) can play a proactive  role in training the tax consultants  across the country by conducting seminars and online  training  to  educate and equip  them with knowledge and skills required for handling digital platforms

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One comment on “Can Virtual Courts Be Extended Permanently To The Tribunals? ITAT To Offer Suggestions To Parliamentary Committee
  1. Mr Prakash K Jotwani says:

    In my view there is only ONE stake holder that is the assessee. Department passes orders and has no stake in it Tribunal adjudicates whose view is right and wrong
    The Assessee cannot be deprived of proper representation just because it saves cost and time
    It is his prerogative whether to choose physical hearing or virtual hearing, which cannot be denied.
    Besides the metro the cases in small places are big cases for them That does not mean that in comparison to the metro it is a small case and hence should be taken up on virtual mode

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