he Supreme Court of India organised video conferencing and it has been fairly successful so far. Once the pandemic is over, one should be able to continue this. What more, we should have continuous live streaming of what is happening in any court in India,” said Attorney General K.K. Venugopal speaking at a panel discussion, “Harmonising Access to Justice and Lawyers Welfare during Pandemic”, as a part of the annual Lawyers of India Day celebrations. It was hosted by the Bar Association of India.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to both- the citizens’ access to justice and the welfare of the practice of most junior members of the Bar.
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan observed, “We, as members of the bar, have to, to the extent possible, support our peers and colleagues. The narrowest circle is obviously immediately around us. Justice, in the sense of running practice, to those who supported us during good times, is also important so at least offices and chambers are kept running.”
Divan also indicated that the pandemic had provided a tremendous opportunity to move a huge part of the commercial docket to arbitration to improve access to justice.
Similarly, Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta noted how the pandemic has provided lawyers with the opportunity to digitise far quicker than they would be inclined to otherwise. Substantiating this view, Advocate Chander Uday Singh proposed a compilation of the best practices for functioning that had been found across the country during the pandemic and making them the norm.
Senior Advocate Krishnan Venugopal spoke of harmonising access to justice by using a multi-pronged approach to improve video conferencing facilities in the lowest levels of the judiciary. He pushed the authorities to conduct a nation-wide audit by installing a legal aid framework.
Advocate Jaideep Gupta highlighted the various barriers to practicing “virtual law.” He remarked, “Two most prominent problems that are faced more in rural areas, but also in urban areas, are the availability of constant electricity supply and internet networks. Without these two, much of the virtual world is not accessible to people and therefore the entire effort would fail.”
Following the footsteps of the US Supreme Court, he recommended the innovative solution of teleconferencing, rather than video conferencing, to represent clients during the pandemic.
Advocate SS Naganand said, “We should urge the court to fill up the vacancies that are contributing a great deal to delays being caused by the pandemic,” said Naganand.
President-elect of the BAI, Amarjit Singh Chandiok, said, “In Delhi, the Court itself made courtrooms available for anybody who does not have the facilities to make representations.”
“In India, we have more than 1.3 million lawyers now and when we talk about virtual court hearings, 97% of these lawyers do not have access to facilities and our citizens do not have access to justice. Therefore, only lip service to the cause of administration of justice is happening, but where is the justice which our constitution speaks about? The registry decides the urgency and importance of matters fixed in the High Courts and Supreme Court. What is happening to those 3.5 crore cases which are pending in the district courts? We must keep in mind that more judges will only lead to more of corruption and malpractices as they would not be trained properly and these would only be political appointments,” remarked Dr Lalit Bhasin.
Venugopal conferred the Lawyers of India Day awards to Shri C.S. Vaidyanathan, Ms. Pallavi Shroff, Shri S.K. Kapur, Shri Udaya Holla, and Prof. Kamlesh Joshipura for their exceptional contribution to the noble profession of law.
BAI president Prashant Kumar announced that BAI would soon come up with a road map on how the BAI can help in implementing a scheme akin to the Supreme Court middle income group legal aid scheme by making available a pool of lawyers at a reasonable fixed fee with the help of local bar associations so that litigants can access legal services at a reasonable cost and lawyers can get some work and income.
Hony General Secretary to the BAI Dr. Anindita Pujari, in her welcome address, emphasized the need for pro bono lawyering. She said Dr. Rajendra Prasad as a lawyer had stood by Mahatma Gandhi during his Champaran Satyagrah. She informed the audience that it was Dr. Rajendra Prasad also who had inaugurated the Bar Association of India in 1960 in his capacity as the President of India.
(Niharika Ravi is a student at School of Law, NMIMS, Navi Mumbai and an intern with The Leaflet.)