23 Aug 2021 6:29 AM GMT
A lawyers' body and a legal journalist have moved Supreme Court challenging the recent decision of the Uttarakhand High Court under which the functioning of virtual courts has been terminated by the High Court and the Court has reverted to full physical functioning. The plea has been filed by All India Jurists Association, a body that consists of more than 5,000 lawyers...
A lawyers' body and a legal journalist have moved Supreme Court challenging the recent decision of the Uttarakhand High Court under which the functioning of virtual courts has been terminated by the High Court and the Court has reverted to full physical functioning.
The plea has been filed by All India Jurists Association, a body that consists of more than 5,000 lawyers across the country, and a legal journalist associated with Live Law, Sparsh Upadhyay.
Importantly, the plea seeks the declaration of 'access to virtual courts' by counsels, clients, and Journalists as a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India.
It may be noted that on August 16, 2021, the Uttarakhand High Court, through its Registrar General, passed an Administrative Order which read as follows:
"Hon'ble Court is pleased to direct that the Hon'ble Court will resume normal judicial work only through physical mode w.e.f. 24.08.2021, and no request for virtual hearing will be entertained by the High Court."
In this regard, the plea avers that the decision of the Uttarakhand High Court is a 'death-knell for virtual courts in India.
Averments in the plea
The petition has also impleaded Registrar Generals of 3 High Courts of the country, vis Madhya Pradesh High Court, Bombay High Court and the Kerala High Court averring that the SOPs of the High Courts, though permit virtual hearings, but many Courtrooms are compelling and coercing lawyers to appear only physically by not conveniently providing joining links virtually for attending their cases through a virtual mode in the hybrid model adopted by them.
The petition also pleads that post Covid- 19 pandemic after commissioning and installation of the entire virtual court infrastructure in the Constitutional Courts (in the High Courts of the country), denial of access to the facility of conducting cases through virtual mode is akin to denial of Fundamental Rights under Article 19 read with 21 of the Constitution of India.
Therefore, the plea also seeks a Writ of Mandamus restraining the Registrar Generals of all the 4 High Courts from denying access to virtual courts through Video Conferencing to any lawyer and Journalists intending to opt for the same only on the ground that physical hearing in the concerned High Court has commenced and the said mode of physical hearing must be preferred.
Further, as mentioned, the Petitioners lay a challenge to the order of the Uttarakhand High Court on multiple grounds, one of them being it being contrary to the Vision document of the E-Committee of the Supreme Court which envisioned development of the hybrid model for hearing in the Supreme Court as well as High Courts of the country.
The petition further pleads that the Preamble to the Constitution of India, read with Articles 38 and 39 enjoin the Constitutional Courts of the country to make justice accessible, affordable, and economic in nature where everybody can have easy and convenient access to the same.
The petitioners have thus pleaded that access to virtual courts for dispensation of justice by the counsel or the client is an essential facet of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and thus cannot be lightly denied to the lawyers.
Petitioner number 2 (legal Journalist) in turn has pleaded that the denial to virtual access of courts in fact has the effect of denying them the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) as they would be denied their right to report the proceedings on a real-time and live basis.
Referring to the judgment of M.R. Vijay Bhaskar v. Chief Election Commissioner, the journalist has claimed that if access to virtual courts is wiped out, then the exercise of Fundamental Rights would become impossible.
Also, referring to the Apex Court's ruling in the case of Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court, the petitioners have averred thus:
"The judgment categorically held that in the fast-changing globalized world, it is obligatory for the Indian Judiciary to use Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) in the most optimal manner to make Justice available at the cheapest possible price for one and all"
The petition has been drawn and settled by counsel Mr. Siddharth R. Gupta and the same has been filed through AOR Mr. Shriram Parakkat.