In the Supreme Court’s virtual court hearings, placards are proving to be invaluable

Placards, which are used to convey powerful messages during protests, cheer sportspersons or give cues to actors, are making their presence felt in a new arena — the Supreme Court of India.

Here, they act as silent referees, guiding lawyers, some of whom aren’t so tech-savvy, through often patchily connected virtual court hearings. With the virtual court system gaining more than a foothold in the judicial system lately, placards are proving to be of invaluable help.

Often lawyers presenting their arguments are seen but not heard by the judges during virtual hearings. At times, they are heard but not seen. There are also times when judges stop listening to the lawyer and confer with each other in the middle of a hearing, but the lawyer unknowingly continues with his submissions. On these occasions, the white-sleeved hand of an anonymous court staffer pops up at the bottom of the screen, holding a placard with a suitable message to the camera in the courtroom.

Over time, the repertoire of placards has increased to anticipate every technical trouble that could crop up during a court hearing. From the simple “please unmute” in the first months of virtual court hearings last year, there are now a number of placards to display to the lawyers on camera, including “you are visible but not audible” and “you are audible but not visible”.

The latest placard read: “please pause your argument”. This comes up when judges suddenly go into a huddle while a lawyer is arguing.

It’s not that lawyers don’t have a placard or two up their sleeve. Recently, a lawyer held up a placard that said: “Please unmute me”.

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