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Lawyer Moves Supreme Court Challenging Bombay High Court Circular Reducing Working Hours To 3 Due To COVID

Sharmeen Hakim
15 Jan 2022 8:26 AM GMT
Lawyer Moves Supreme Court Challenging Bombay High Court Circular Reducing Working Hours To 3 Due To COVID
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A Mumbai based lawyer has approached the Supreme Court seeking to set aside the Bombay High Court's circular reducing its functioning in Mumbai to just three working hours a day owing to the rise in covid-19 cases in the city and state. It further seeks to enforce virtual hearings in all courts in the state. According to the Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) dated January 10, 2022, the...

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A Mumbai based lawyer has approached the Supreme Court seeking to set aside the Bombay High Court's circular reducing its functioning in Mumbai to just three working hours a day owing to the rise in covid-19 cases in the city and state. It further seeks to enforce virtual hearings in all courts in the state.

According to the Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) dated January 10, 2022, the HC will function from 12 pm-3 pm without a lunch break from Monday to Friday. This arrangement will apply from January 11 to 28. The Bombay HC's administrative committee issued the direction after a meeting with other stakeholders like the civic body chief.

The PIL now filed by advocate Ghanshyam Upadhyay under Article 32 of the Constitution of India calls the SOP "unrealistic" and "unreasonable." He states that courts can be made functional through a virtual hearing without reducing the working hours.

The petition points out that lawyers and litigants are facing tremendous hardships due to the reduced working hours of the HC. "Their fundamental rights are jeopardized and violated, which are a matter of great concern and of great public importance," the plea reads.

Therefore, he seeks to quash and set aside the SOPs dated January 3 and 10, 2022 and direct the Bombay High court to form guidelines and ensure the virtual functioning of all courts in the state.

"Hon'ble Court may be pleased to direct the High Court, Bombay to ensure that all the courts in the State are made to function full time through virtual platform by laying down guidelines for the same in such manner and/or procedure as the High Court may deem fit and proper with the object of avoiding physical appearance of lawyers/litigants but without compromising/curtailing the court timing/working hours of the courts in the State of Maharashtra."

The plea adds that virtual hearings can increase the disposal rate of cases and are the future of court proceedings.

"It cannot be ignored that future seems to be of court hearing through virtual platform only and therefore, instead of making emphasis on virtual hearing, making the same an alternate only, on account of new variant, cannot be said to be applicable and that too by reducing the court hours," the plea states.

According to the SOP, from January 3, subordinate courts in Mumbai, Pune, Raigad and Alibaug have been directed to function between 11 am and 4 pm with 50% of staff on rotation and to hear - remand, bail and urgent matters through physical hearing. Subordinate courts have the discretion of recording evidence virtually.

The petitioner states that the requisite infrastructure necessary for such virtual functioning is not available to the best of his knowledge. He calls it "shameful" that subordinate courts of the country's financial capital lack cheap and easy to procure equipment for virtual hearings.

"It is very shameful that subordinate courts of the financial capital of the country and its adjoining cities named hereinabove, which are considered and believed to be most advanced and forward cities in all respects amongst all the cities of the country, lack infrastructures for hearing the matters on virtual platform, which are very easy and cheap to procure."

In most other states virtual courts were found functional.

The plea says that the hearings have come to a standstill in court after the issuance of the SOPs. He cites the example of a recently retired district judge who would ask lawyers to argue matters without entering the court.

Reduced Functioning Hours of the HC

The petitioner emphasizes that judges and staff of the HC are well acquainted with online hearings, which have proved to be effective and advantageous for all concerned. Moreover, the Covid-19's new variant seems to have mild effects, and its casualty rate is negligible.

Regarding the lack of connectivity outside Mumbai, the petitioner said that in May 2020, he was part of a musical program organized for lawyers pan India by a person sitting in a hill station like Lonavala. He states that social media can easily be used for virtual functioning of courts.

"It is matter of record and well-known fact that by now almost all the High Courts of the country and even the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India have been conducting hearing full-fledged inasmuch as during complete court hours through virtual platform and therefore, there is no reason and justification as to why the Bombay High Court be made the exception thereto."

When rallies for General Elections/ Assembly Election can be held and in fact, are being held through "virtual platforms", there is absolutely no reason as to why the court proceedings cannot be conducted full-fledged through virtual platforms, the plea finally states.

Click Here To Read/Download The Petition


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