The move assumes significance with many high courts actively considering going back to physical courts without giving lawyers the fall-back option of appearing virtually through video conferencing.
The Association of All India Jurists and Advocates, representing over 5,000 advocates, has argued that many high courts were forcing lawyers to appear physically without giving them the option of appearing virtually if they wanted to.
The organisation has objected to the coercion involved in such a mandatory move back to physical hearings, especially when medical experts have predicted a third wave, most likely in October.
This is against the court’s own vision document which promises hybrid hearings by way of both physical and virtual hearings, it said. The petition has been filed by advocate Sriram Parakkat.
The plea has been filed in the light of a recent Uttarakhand High Court administrative order which has ordered all lawyers to physically appear in court with no option of appearing virtually.
Access to virtual courts cannot be denied casually or cursorily, the petition has said.
“… though SOPs on paper permit virtual court hearings, many court rooms are compelling and coercing lawyers to appear only physically by not conveniently providing joining links virtually for attending their cases…,” it said.
“… after commissioning and installation of the entire virtual court infrastructure in the constitutional courts, denial of access to the facility of conducting cases through virtual mode is akin to denial of fundamental rights under Article 19 read with Article 21 of the Constitution.”
The petition sought a court order restraining four high courts of Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bombay and Kerala from proceeding with only physical courts. The Uttarakhand High Court had in an administrative order said that normal judicial work will resume only through physical mode with effect from August 24, 2021, and no request for virtual hearing will be entertained by the high court.
Justice must be accessible, affordable and economic in nature where everyone can have easy and convenient access to the same, the petition settled by advocate Siddharth R Gupta said.