Plea filed in Kerala High Court to include services of Advocates under ‘essential services’ amid COVID-19

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A plea has been filed in the Kerala High Court seeking a direction to the authorities to include the services of advocates and their clerks under the definition of “essential services” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition filed by All India Association of Jurists and an advocate (petitioners) statd that lawyers play a key role in the administration of justice and facilitate access to justice, which is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“The continuous functioning of the Judiciary cannot be put to rest and therefore, it has to function at all times with the participation of the advocates and hence by its very nature services rendered by Advocates, Advocates Clerks and their offices is an essential service as the same caters to the citizens fundamental right to access to justice through an Advocate enshrined under Article 14, 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution,” it was submitted.

The petitioners further said that they are aggrieved by the inaction on the part of the State government on requests to include the services rendered by advocates under the ambit of essential services. Further,

“The Petitioners are also aggrieved by apparent arbitrary discrimination being done by the 1st and 2nd respondents against the entire fraternity of legal profession by not including them in the category of essential service, whereas the respondents have included even print and electronic media in the category permitted to function during the Covid pandemic.”

The plea also highlighted the difficulties faced by lawyers in commuting from their homes to the courts.

“This problem is faced by thousands of Advocates who do not have their own vehicles and are not in bus zone or are required to change buses to reach Court which is also a problem as time constraint for legal profession are of outmost importance…The petitioners seeks a direction permitting the Advocates to travel by any means of transportation to reach their offices and court premises.”

In this regard, the petition cited a May 2020 Delhi High Court order by which services rendered by advocates were considered as essential services for the grant of e-passes to lawyers.

Stating that “grave hardship will be inflicted on the community” in the absence of services of advocates and their clerks, the petitioners sought the following reliefs:

Direction to include advocates, advocate clerks and their offices and the access to justice through an advocate as an essential service.

Direction not to restrict the movement of advocates, advocate clerks travelling to their offices, various courts, tribunals and other judicial and quasi-judicial forums to conduct their case.

Direction to allow advocates to function their offices as they are catering to the right to the fundamental of right to access to justice of the citizens.

Direction to make suitable arrangements for the smooth and continuous functioning of courts, tribunals and other judicial and quasi-judicial forums and not to restrict the movements of the public seeking access to justice.

Direction declaring that the right to access to justice through an advocate as a fundamental right enshrined under Article 14, 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution.

The petition was filed through advocate John Mani V and Sriram Parakkat.