Bombay Bar Association (BBA) and 452 lawyers practicing in Mumbai separately wrote to Bombay High Court Chief Justice, Dipankar Datta on Sunday requesting that lawyers be given the option to choose between physical and virtual hearings.
BBA made the specific request to the Chief Justice seeking a modification in the office order released by the Court on Friday declaring that most benches of High Court will conduct physical hearings on experimental basis from December 1, 2020 to January 10, 2021.
Similarly 452 lawyers, senior and junior, practicing in different judicial for across Mumbai also wrote to the Chief Justice to allow lawyers to choose between physical and virtual hearings.
The representations highlighted the spike in COVID cases across the country stating that restarting physical hearings at this stage could lead to increase in transmission while considering option between physical and virtual hearings.
Not only the lawyers and court staff but their families including elderly parents will also be exposed to risk, they said while considering option between physical and virtual hearings.
“Many other High courts in India have tested the waters with experimental reopening of Courts, only to shut down again, due to the spread of the virus within courts,” they added citing the cases of Delhi, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chennai, Patna, Allahabad, Jharkhand and Meghalaya High Courts.
Restarting physical hearings, they said, will create a “one-step forward, two-steps back” situation. It will only reinforce the message that – the highly contagious nature of this disease makes resumption of physical hearings almost impossible to regulate.
They also referred to an order of the Delhi High Court directing that while physical hearings may be attempted, they should be optional to choose between physical and virtual hearings and not forced upon .
The representations listed the possible reasons that would lead to a rise of COVID cases in courts, leading to shut down of the court again.
- For lawyers who are dependent on public transport, the resumption of physical hearings is ardous as boarding for trains is only at 11 am.
- Most lawyers have gone back to their native places. If they are all forced to come back, there will be influx of people in Mumbai.
- Everyone will be sharing common amenities of the courtroom for the whole day. Hence, sanitation of those amenities will be difficult.
Moreover, the fact that the court of Chief Justice has been seamlessly functioning physically with simultaneous virtual hearings was also cited.
Other courts can also start a hybrid system of physical and virtual courts and BBA will seek assistance of technical agencies to aid the technical team of the Court in setting up a seamless system, the representations suggested.
In the meantime, the present system of virtual hearings, which has been successful so far, can be continued till December 31, 2020, the lawyers urged.