A representation has been made before the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court endorsed by over 250 members of the bar including some senior advocates asking for physical hearings to be resumed or in the alternative have regular hearings via video conferencing.
Senior Advocates like BA Desai, Yusuf Muchhala, Rajani Iyer and Arif Bookwala are amongst the 254 advocates who have endorsed the said representation. Speaking to Live Law, Senior Advocate BA Desai said-
"Needless to say, Courts must follow all safety precautions of social distancing, temperature checks etc. But regular public hearings should resume, there can be a system where the hearing itself is curtailed to the duration of submissions and one advocate is allowed inside the courtroom at a time and maybe one representative of the client can be allowed along with him.
All High Courts and the Supreme Court are custodians of the rights of citizens. Many High Courts have already started regular hearings. Moreover, virtual hearings may be a handicap for some lawyers, as they may not be comfortable with the technology, especially in lower courts where advocates are better versed in Marathi than English but virtual hearings are conducted in English."
It is stated in the representation-
"During the last three and half months, the Bombay High Court in Mumbai and at its benches has been unable to function to its full strength and the temporary solution to this situation by having court hearings through virtual medium of video conferencing is insufficient to meet the vast needs and enormous case load on the justice administration system.
Moreover, the current situation is hampering the disposal of pending litigation which is in turn slowing the financial growth and adding to the current economic crisis. Lawyers who are an integral part of the justice administration system are also suffering at this juncture. Because of the limited functioning of courts, the professional incomes of most of the lawyers have been reduced to nil. Lawyers, particularly junior lawyers, are finding it difficult to survive during this time. In addition to that even to function to a limited extent through video conferencing involves a great amount of infrastructure upgradation which involves substantial cost."
It is also contended that other High Courts are leading the way in exploring the option of conducting physical hearings again. As Calcutta High Court's notification dated June 5, 2020 is "very informative and educating" about how to go ahead and plan this exercise of physical hearings. Delhi High Court, which is closer to Bombay High Court in terms of being in a populated city where the infected and active Covid-19 cases are higher in number, had already started with physical hearings of the cases though the arrangement has been put on a temporary hold at the moment. Calcutta HC, Kerala HC and Madras HC started physical hearings from Monday, July 6, 2020.
Moreover, it is imperative in this scenario that the High Court should resume functioning in physical form. With restrictions and elaborate rules for safety of judges, lawyers and the court staff this is possible. The pandemic may take a good time to subside and in these testing times, we as an institution have to adopt the best practices prevalent in other courts to fulfil our noble duty in justice administration, the representation states.
Finally, the Chief Justice has been urged to consider allowing resumption of regular physical hearings, regular hearings via video conferencing or a 'hybrid system' involving a combination of both virtual and physical hearings-
"It was in the news recently that an advocate committed suicide due to financial problems. Some advocates and law firms have vacated their offices as they are unable to pay rents. Instances such as a big percentage of salary being deducted, delay in salary payment, bulk laying off or the looming threat thereof, loss of confidence/aggression of litigants to pursue a matter, and majorly the absolute uncertainty of future prospects, require immediate attention of the Chief Justice."
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