The Delhi High Court has observed that but for video conference technology, the judicial system would have come to a grinding halt during the COVID-19 pandemic [RC v. Govt of NCT, Delhi].
In times such as these, when technology has proven to be a “bridge” for uninterrupted communication, Court cannot allow a rigid interpretation of the statute to prevent citizens from exercising their rights, single-judge Justice Rekha Palli said. The order passed that if not for the acceptance of Video Conferencing as the norm, this Court and the judicial system in this country would have come to a grinding halt, and would not have been able to function at a time when there was the greatest need for the citizens of this country to have access to justice. The Court, therefore, endorsed the use of video conferences to register the marriage of an Indian couple living in the US, seeking registration of their marriage in Delhi.
The court is of the view that, in times such as these, when technology has proven to be the bridge that ensured uninterrupted communication, widespread dissemination of information in the public interest, and the smooth functioning of society, the Court cannot allow a rigid interpretation of the statute to prevent citizens from exercising their rights. The couple had sought direction from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) concerned in New Delhi to register their marriage in accordance with the provisions of the Delhi (Compulsory Registration of Marriage) Order, 2014 without insisting on their physical appearance before him. The marriage between the couple was solemnized in 2001 as per Hindu rites and ceremonies but in 2014 the registration of marriages solemnized in Delhi was made compulsory under the Registration Order.
Records showed that the couple had already relocated to Singapore before 2014 and the marriage registration could not be done when the registration order came into effect. The couple presently in the US, required the marriage registration certificate for grant of a green card. The Court was informed that though it had applied for a green card in the USA, and their applications stood approved, the same couldn’t be processed for want of a marriage registration certificate from the authority in Delhi, where their marriage took place.
The State’s counsel sought the plea to be dismissed on the ground that the physical presence of the couple was mandatory as there was a requirement of capturing and uploading live photographs of the parties and their witnesses on the portal. Besides, the marriage certificate had to be physically signed by both parties before the Registrar of Marriage and it had to be assessed whether the bride and the groom were of “sound mind” acting without fear.
She also emphasized that personal presence was mandated under Clause 4 of the Registration Order. The Court, however, held that the term "personal appearance” in Clause 4 of the Registration Order had to be read to include presence secured through video conference. It pointed out that any other interpretation, would not only frustrate the very purpose of this beneficial legislation but, it would also undermine the use of this important and easily accessible tool of video conferencing,
The order went ahead to note that it finds the question whether personal appearance for purposes of registration of marriage would include appearance through Video Conferencing has already been considered and answered in the affirmative, as rightly urged by learned senior counsel for the petitioner not only by this Court but by a number of other High Courts as well. The Court further said that in a little over half a decade, since the Registration Order was notified, the universe has undergone a sea change. the Registering Authority, while exercising its power and jurisdiction under the Registration Order is refusing to recognize the reality that with the technology as is available today, web portals and video-conferencing have become almost the norm.
If not for video conference, citizens' right to access justice would have been hampered during COVID, the Court noted. The order stated that these aspects appear to have been simply overlooked by the Registering Authority, who’s continuing to insist on that the parties must remain present physically before him. The Court, therefore, allowed the petition, holding that the couple can submit a physical copy of their application through their attorney and enter a personal appearance, as and when required, through video conference. The application, it added, would be duly processed by the registering authority, subject to submission of duly notarised copies of all relevant documents before the authority, physically and fulfilling all other procedural requirements.