The Karnataka High Court on Friday dismissed a petition filed by an advocate challenging the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the High Court allowing partial functioning of district courts in the state.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Nataraj Rangaswamy stopped short of imposing an exemplary cost of Rs 1 lakh, on the party in person Advocate Rajadithya Sadasiva by saying
"Though this is a fit case where costs quantified at an amount not less than Rs.1,00,000 should be imposed on the petitioner, we are not doing so. The reason is that if mercy and leniency are to be shown, the are to be shown by the Judges, who are occupying Constitutional posts. Therefore, we exercise our jurisdiction by showing mercy and we are not imposing any costs on the petitioner."
The petitioner argued that the SOP subjects the court staff and judicial officers to the dangers of epidemic. It was aruged that cross-examination by video conferencing is not effective. Further, most of the stages of the trial can be taken care of by sending emails. He submitted that instead of allowing Advocates to appear physically and make oral submissions or allowing Advocates to participate in Video Conferencing hearings, video clips of submissions should be permitted to be forwarded by email.
The bench during the hearing said "It is very easy to sit in AC offices and argue all this. There is always going to be opposition to the procedure adopted, by certain members of the bar. It is easy to throw stones at us. But let us tell you that courts are for litigants and not only for the advocates."
The bench in its order said "As we are dealing with an extraordinary situation, it is impossible to find a perfect solution which will be liked by all stakeholders. Before framing procedures at every stage there was consultation with the Bar association and Bar Council, Advocate General and Additional Solicitor General. By publishing notice on website, suggestions were called and those suggestions were referred to a court appointed committee and that is how SOP was published and revised from time to time after consulting stakeholders. The procedure laid down is not rigid. In fact SOP underwent changes from time to time. We may note here that no one can claim what is devised by SOP is perfect.The reason is the situation is abnormal."
Referring to the suo-motu Public Interest litigation taken up by the court to address various legal and technical issues which would arise on partial functioning of courts, the bench said "Efforts were made to reconcile the provisions of law for efficient functioning of the Courts during the period of limited functioning. A suo-motu PIL has been initiated to ensure that courts function in more effective and litigant friendly manner in the days of the pandemic."
It added that "Several members of the bar will have their opinions. However, the institution of court is not run on the basis of individual opinions.The ultimate object of SOP is to ensure that the limited functioning of the Court continues in a best possible manner without the Courts becoming the source of spreading the pandemic of Novel CoronaVirus."
The bench concluded by saying that "Suffice it to say that this Public Interest Litigation is not worthy of entertaining at all. This is not a case which could have been brought to the Court by way of a writ petition in the nature of PIL. In fact, this is a fit case where exemplary costs should be imposed on the petitioner, who himself is a member of the Bar. There are urgent matters waiting in the queue and the Court cannot be forced to devote such a long time for dealing with a PIL filed by a member of the bar challenging certain provisions of the SOPs."
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