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Lawyer got ‘erotic’ in Madras HC virtual hearing. But it isn’t 1st online boo-boo in Covid era

With embarrassments piling up since hearings went virtual, Madras HC decided it couldn’t turn a blind eye when a lawyer was caught making out with a woman and the video went viral.

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New Delhi: This Tuesday, the Madras High Court initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against a lawyer after a video that showed him making out with a woman during a virtual hearing went viral on social media.

The video features advocate R.D. Santhana Krishnan engaging in “eroticism” — as the court put it — with a woman during a virtual hearing presided over by Justice G.K. Ilanthiraiyan.

It’s the latest in a whole genre of mortifying courtroom incidents since virtual hearings began with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a division bench of Justice P.N. Prakash and Justice R. Hemalatha took cognisance of the clip, saying it couldn’t overlook such behaviour. 

“This court cannot afford to be a mute spectator and turn a Nelson’s eye when such brazen vulgarity is publicly displayed amidst court proceedings”, the bench said.

This comes after the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry suspended the advocate for ‘improper behavior’ and initiated disciplinary proceedings against him.

The court also ordered the Crime Branch-CID to register an FIR, saying that, prima facie, the video was in violation of the IT Act, 2000, and other penal laws. It also ordered the Chennai City Commissioner of Police to block the circulation of the clip.

Taking note of the “vulgar activity” during court proceedings, the bench noted that the hybrid model of hearings needed reconsideration. It recommended that the matter be placed before the Chief Justice of the High Court, to take a policy decision on the matter.

“We are of the considered view that it is high time that we revisit the procedure of conducting court proceedings in hybrid mode”, said the court.

Virtual boo-boos galore 

Embarrassing incidents have been rife since virtual hearings in Indian courts began in March 2020, with advocates attending hearings sporting coloured clothes, vests, and even puja attire.

In July 2021, the Allahabad High Court issued a dress code for virtual hearings, calling such instances ‘unacceptable’ and ‘inappropriate’. It inveighed against lawyers attending hearings from places with unpleasant backgrounds and noisy surroundings, including marketplaces and parked vehicles — or while lounging in bed with a face pack on.

“Advocates should understand that their appearance for hearing of cases through virtual mode from their house or office or chamber is like an extended courtroom, and it is as serious as attending a proceeding inside a court,” the court said.

In August 2020, the Calcutta High Court initiated contempt proceedings against an advocate for sharing a screenshot of a court hearing on LinkedIn. However, he was let off after a warning.

Actor Juhi Chawla’s suit before the Delhi High Court against the implementation of 5G also fell victim to a similar faux pas. The hearing was disrupted by unknown persons singing songs from films featuring Chawla, which led to Justice J.R. Midha ordering contempt proceedings.

In another incident, the Delhi High Court imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on a man who attended a virtual hearing in his vest, calling such conduct “totally unacceptable”.

The Calcutta High Court caught a senior advocate wearing bright-coloured shorts after his tablet fell during a hearing, while another lawyer enjoyed his lunch in a hearing alongside Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta before the Patna HC.

The most shocking incident occurred when a man appeared semi-naked during a virtual hearing in the Karnataka High Court. Following a sexual abuse complaint by senior advocate Indira Jaising, the court took cognisance of the matter and issued notice.

These embarrassments have also happened the world over, with a woman broadcasting a butt injection in a Miami Court and the famous “cat lawyer” Rod Ponton, who appeared before a court in Texas donning a Zoom kitten filter.

(Akshat Jain, a first-year student of law at NLU, Delhi, is an intern with ThePrint)

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: Bail plea in baniyan to pressure cooker whistles – a nightmare called WFH in India


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