Supreme Court: In the matter revolving around allowing video conferencing in matters relating to marital disputes, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and AM Khanwilkar and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ gave a 2:1 decision and held that the discretion as to allowing Video Conferencing has to rest with the Family Court and it is to be exercised after the court arrives at a definite conclusion that the settlement is not possible and both parties file a joint application or each party filing his/her consent memorandum seeking hearing by videoconferencing.
CJI, writing the majority opinion for himself and Khanwilkar, J, said:
“The procedure of video conferencing which is to be adopted when one party gives consent is contrary to Section 11 of the 1984 Act. There is no provision that the matter can be dealt with by the Family Court Judge by taking recourse to videoconferencing.”
Stating that video conferencing may create a dent in the process of settlement, it was held that what one party can communicate with other, if they are left alone for some time, is not possible in videoconferencing and if possible, it is very doubtful whether the emotional bond can be established in a virtual meeting during videoconferencing. CJI, writing the majority opinion for himself and Khanwilkar, J, went on to say:
“the statutory right of a woman cannot be nullified by taking route to technological advancement and destroying her right under a law, more so, when it relates to family matters.”
CJI and Khanwilkar, J, stating that the order will prospectively, gave the below mentioned directions:
- 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 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.
- 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.
- In a transfer petition, video conferencing cannot be directed.
The decision in Krishna Veni Nagam v. Harish Nagam, (2017) 4 SCC 150, was, hence, overruled to the extent, where, in order to provide alternative to seeking transfer of proceedings on account of inability of a party to contest proceedings at a place away from their ordinary residence which will eventually result in denial of justice, the Court recommended the availability of video conferencing facility.
Writing down his minority opinion, Chandrachud, J, said that whether video conferencing should be allowed in a particular family dispute before the Family Court, the stage at which it should be allowed and the safeguards which should be followed should best be left to the High Courts while framing rules on the subject. Subject to such rules, the use of video conferencing must be left to the careful exercise of discretion of the Family Court in each case.
“The Family Courts Act, 1984 has been enacted at a point in time when modern technology which enables persons separated by spatial distances to communicate with each other face to face was not the order of the day or, in any case, was not as fully developed. That is no reason for any court – especially for this court which sets precedent for the nation – to exclude the application of technology to facilitate the judicial process.”
Disagreeing with the proposition that video conferencing can be permitted only after the conclusion of settlement proceedings, and thereafter only when both parties agree to it, he said that it does not accord either with the purpose or the provisions of the Family Courts Act 1984. He said that the 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. [Santhini v. Vijaya Venketesh, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1080, decided on 09.10.2017]