New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday took cognisance of financial difficulties faced by advocates due to the online functioning of courts amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a smaller number of cases getting listed for hearing.
A bench led by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said the “unprecedented crisis” required an “unprecedented resolution,” as it issued notices to the Bar Council of India (BCI), the central government, all state bar councils and bar associations across the country to explore the possibility of setting up a relief fund for deserving and eligible advocates.
In the order, it noted that resumption of physical courts in the near future appeared bleak in view of medical experts advising against it. Therefore, the court has decided to take up the matter on account of the losses being faced by advocates due to decreasing litigation work.
The court will hear the matter again after two weeks.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by BCI — apex disciplinary body for lawyers — when it took suo motu cognisance of the issue. The council sought a direction to the central government to arrange for financial assistance through interest-free loans of upto Rs 3 lakh to every advocate enrolled with the respective State Bar Council.
“The situation of some of them is so grim that it may not be an exaggeration to say that they face virtual starvation and they require urgent and immediate financial aid and succour,” the plea stated.
ThePrint, too, has reported how lawyers have resorted to other means for livelihood, including weaving baskets and selling vegetables.
Courts across India stopped open court hearing of cases after the lockdown was imposed on 24 March. They have resorted to virtual court hearings of only “urgent matters”.
‘It is a dire circumstance’
The bench accepted that the “pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the lives of citizens and particularly the legal fraternity”. It even noted that lawyers are bound by the rules to restrict their income only to the profession. Under the Advocates Act the lawyers are not entitled to earn livelihood by any other means.
“In such a circumstance the closure of courts has deprived a sizeable section of the legal profession of their income and therefore livelihood,” the bench said.
On the constant demand to resume normal functioning of the court to enable resumption of the legal profession the court said: “This demand poses its own difficulties in the sense this jeopardizes the health of all those who attend courts in congregation, judges, lawyers and equally important the staff of the court.”
Medical advice, the court said, does not favour open court hearings immediately.
In order to mitigate the difficulties of lawyers and in the “interest of justice” the court proposed setting up a fund to provide financial aid to advocates.
The order stated the fund should enable the bar associations to invite donations from their own members and also others. The court on the next hearing will also fix the norms for eligibility for such financial aids.
Registrar generals of every high court have also been asked to participate in the proceedings.