Expressing that functioning of advocates' offices was necessary for securing the fundamental right of access to justice, the High Court of Kerala on Tuesday sought to know from the Central Government if it was possible to grant relaxations for advocates from the lockdown
A bench headed by Justice Devan Ramachandran asked the Central Government Counsel to get instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs on exemptions for advocates from the point of view of access to justice.
The bench, also comprising Justice T R Ravi, was responding to the oral request made by Advocate Lakshmi Narayan, the President of Kerala HC Advocates Association, for easing the restrictions for HC advocates in Ernakulam to access their offices/chambers during the period. Even though e-filing has been permitted, he said that it was necessary for advocates to access their offices for study and preparation of cases. Also, many advocates are not well-versed with technology and therefore require the assistance of their staff for drafting and e-filing of petitions, submitted the KHCAA President.
The Central Government Counsel submitted that no exemption for advocates has been listed in the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding guidelines.
The Additional Advocate General for the State Government highlighted that the Cochin Corporation area has been notified as a 'hotspot'.
At this juncture, Justice Devan Ramachandran observed "'access to justice is important, and without advocates it is not possible".
The bench then asked the CGC if it was possible to permit restricted functioning of advocates' office for a few hours daily with limited staff under strict conditions.
When the CGC pointed out to the lack of mention about advocates in the MHA guidelines, the bench asked him to get instructions on any possible relaxations from the point of view of access to justice. The matter will be taken next on April 24.
The Advocates Association of Bengaluru and the Delhi Bar Association have submitted representations seeking relaxations for travel to their offices during the lockdown period.
The Delhi High Court Bar Association has sent a letter to the Delhi CM pointing out that under the relaxed guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, select additional activities will be allowed w.e.f. April 20, 2020. These include activities carried out by "Self Employed Persons" such as electricians, IT repairs, plumbers, motor mechanics, carpenters.
The Association has urged that this list is merely "illustrative" and the intention of the notification is to permit "all the self-employed persons to resume activities", provided the norms of Social Distancing are strictly followed.
"Delhi Bar Association is of clear view that the office activities of Advocates limited to their office/chambers can be carried on and continued, while strictly following the prescribed norms of Social Distancing. As such, the office/Chamber activities of Advocates are covered under the relaxed guidelines and the same ought to be permitted, while observing social distancing norms," the Association urged.