New Delhi: Virtual hearings being carried out by the Supreme Court are “far from satisfactory” and are “deeply disappointing”, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and senior advocate Dushyant Dave told ThePrint over email.
Calling the system “pathetic”, he added, “Everyday I get complaints of lawyers missing out on hearings, being disconnected halfway or not being connected at all and matters being decided ex parte … (There are) no remedial measures.”
Dave also said that he tried conveying this to the judges through the Supreme Court Registry, but hasn’t had much success.
“It is deeply disappointing. Justice is not being done. I think all are suffering,” he said.
The Supreme Court began conducting video conference hearings on 27 March, two days after the Narendra Modi government imposed the nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19.
When asked whether he was consulted in the decision-making process before the court stopped physical courtroom hearings, Dave said he wasn’t, and that there has been a “virtual breakdown of the relationship” between the Bar and the bench.
“Regrettably, over the last few years, and now since the last few months, communication between the bench and the Bar has completely broken down. Last time it was well maintained was when Justice Thakur was the Chief Justice and I happened to be the president of SCBA,” he said.
Dave told ThePrint that the decision was taken “unilaterally” by the judges, and asserted, “I am not surprised because the four-hour lockdown by the Hon’ble PM numbed every institution in the country, and Supreme Court was no exception.”
As for the way forward, he said that he has been “virtually begging” the Supreme Court to start a dialogue with the Bar to find an acceptable solution that works for all.
“Sadly there has been little response,” he said, adding that the SCBA’s demand has been to begin physical hearings while continuing virtual hearings for some cases.
Asserting that this would help not just the litigants but also young lawyers, he said, “I am not suggesting that SCBA wants to compromise the health and well being of all stakeholders, judges, lawyers, litigants, clerks, court staff or evening security personnel.
“No, we want physical as well as virtual hearings to go side by side with utmost safety of all. But we want work to begin, to help not just litigants but the Bar especially the Young Bar.”
Virtual court system will bring in transparency
Dave believes virtual courts can be the best answer for all times to come, and that it could bring much more transparency and remove the scope of nepotism and corruption in the profession.
“It may improve the standard in the legal profession markedly. It will reduce the cost of litigation substantially, and will make the justice system much more accessible, especially to the poor,” he added.
He, however, said that at the moment, “we have allowed the entire judicial system to stop breathing and choke people”.
Dave also said that the apex court has not adopted a standard yardstick in listing matters during the lockdown, especially when it comes to defining what comes under the purview of “urgent matters”.
“It is absolutely at the discretion of the Registry and influential AORs, besides the CJI himself. This is not just unsatisfactory, but quite irrational and unjust,” he said.
Lockdown exposed disparity within the profession
Ever since the lockdown was imposed, young lawyers who relied on daily hearings for their income have expressed their inability to meet their regular expenses, since only a few matters are being heard by courts across the country.
Discussing the current disparity between young lawyers and their seniors, Dave said the lockdown had made this a lot more stark.
“Yes, a large number of lawyers are suffering beyond imagination on account of lockdown of the judicial system. This is not good,” he said.
He also claimed that despite appeals, only a handful of lawyers had come forward to help their colleagues.
Several bar associations had decided to provide financial aid to its members adversely impacted by the lockdown. To that end, they asked senior members of the bar, designated seniors, law firms, members with established practices and those generally charitable to generously donate towards the creation of a corpus.
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