Over 250 Advocates, including 4 designated Senior Lawyer, have written to Bombay HC Chief Justice Dipankar Datta seeking resumption of physical hearings with safety precautions or to start regular hearing of matters via the present system of video-conferencing (VC) or even a hybrid system involving both physical & virtual.
The letter signed Senior Lawyers B A Desai, Yusuf Muchhala, Rajani Iyer & Arif Bookwala among 250 others including Ashok Yende, Sunip Sen, Pradeep Rajgopal, Kamal Khata, Zohair Zaidy, Mohamed Arshad Haindaday & Manoj Shirsat said the court staff are already included in list of essential services to be eligible to travel by local trains & the BEST is offering its services to them too & physical hearing may be resumed & the lawyers who are unable to attend physically be given “an option to appear virtually.’’
The letter requests the Chief Justice to consider setting up “mobile VC facilities” for Mumbai suburbs & satellite towns as was done by the Telangana HC & to set up facilities in “multiple rooms in the HC including the premises of bar association & libraries.’’
The lawyers pointing out that not all lawyers have the necessary digital infrastructure to conduct matters through VC or have access to it would like bar associations be roped into train advocates on digital filing & VC hearings. The letter also said that the “current situation is hampering disposal of pending litigation which is in turn…adding to the current economic crisis.’’ The signatories also said, “digital connectivity is also not consistent.’’
They point out that the “unprecedented situation where every institution is struggling to deliver…Court as a justice dispensation institution is no exception…court functioning has been severely restricted during the pandemic.’’ Unable to function at its full strength the HC has been conducting proceedings via VC & recently doubled its days. The letter said the “temporary solution’’ is “insufficient to meet the vast needs & enormous case load on the justice administration system.’’
Desai later said, “In my opinion the virtual hearing has an inherent element of violation of natural justice, because many proceedings in lower court & in tribunals are in Marathi & lot of lawyers, not well versed with digital technology are at a disadvantage.’’ He also said “courts should seek written submissions to cut down court time consumed by oral hearings.’’
Some who have not signed the letter said with suburban trains, the city’s life-line, not fully functional, would render the demand of physical hearing, difficult to actually implement.