New Delhi Aug 23(ILNS): The Supreme Court, today, refused to allow mentioning for an urgent hearing on a petition challenging the Uttarakhand High Court order, which has decided to resume normal judicial work through the full physical mode from August 24, 2021.
The Bench comprised by Chief Justice of India N. V. Ramana asked the petitioner’s Counsel to mention the matter through proper channels.
The Uttarakhand High Court had, on August 16, 2021, issued a notification, stating that the Court will resume normal judicial work through physical mode with effect from August 24, 2021, and no request for a virtual hearing will be entertained by the High Court.
The Association of All Indian Jurists and Advocates, representing around 5000 advocates from across the country, had filed a Writ Petition under Article 32 before the Supreme Court, seeking an immediate stay of the administrative order issued by the Registrar General, Uttarakhand High Court, through which the functioning of virtual courts has been terminated by the High Court, compelling all the lawyers to conduct their cases through physical mode only.
The petition raised an important plea of declaration of ‘access to virtual courts’ by both the Counsel as well as the client as a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution, which cannot be terminated casually and cursorily by the High Court through an administrative order.
The petition, which also impleaded Registrar Generals of three High Courts of the country- Madhya Pradesh High Court, Bombay High Court, and the Kerala High Court, pleaded that the SOPs on paper though permit virtual hearings, but many Courtrooms are compelling and coercing lawyers to appear only physically, by not conveniently providing joining links virtually for attending their cases through a virtual mode in the hybrid model adopted by them.
It further prayed that post Covid-19 pandemic, after commissioning and installation of the entire virtual court infrastructure in the Constitutional Courts (in the High Courts of the country), denial of access to the facility of conducting cases through virtual mode is akin to denial of Fundamental Rights under Article 19 read with 21 of the Constitution. It thus seeks a Writ of Mandamus restraining the Registrar Generals of all the four High Courts from denying access to virtual courts through video conferencing to any lawyer intending to opt for the same only on the ground that physical hearing in the concerned High Court has commenced and the said mode of physical hearing must be preferred.
The petition was drawn and settled by counsel Siddharth R. Gupta has been filed through AOR Shriram Parakkat.
The Uttarakhand High Court recently, through its Registrar General, passed an Administrative Order, which said, “The Court is pleased to direct that it will resume normal judicial work only through physical mode with effect from August 24, 2021, and no request for a virtual hearing will be entertained by the High Court.”
The other High Courts being impleaded in the Writ Petition, viz Bombay High Court, Madhya Pradesh High Court, and the Kerala High Court, have recently started their physical hearing on a hybrid model basis with access to virtual courts. Both the petitioners lay a challenge to the order of the Uttarakhand High Court on multiple grounds, one of them being it is contrary to the Vision document of the E-Committee of the Supreme Court, which envisioned the development of a hybrid model for hearing in the Supreme Court as well as High Courts of the country.
The petition further pleaded that the Preamble to the Constitution of India, read with Articles 38 and 39, enjoin the Constitutional Courts of the country to make justice accessible, affordable, and economic in nature, where everybody can have easy and convenient access to the same. The petitioners have thus pleaded that access to virtual courts for dispensation of justice by the Counsel or the client is an essential facet of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and thus, cannot be lightly denied to the lawyers.
The journalists in turn have pleaded that the denial to virtual access of courts, in fact, has the effect of denying them the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) as they would be denied their right to report the proceedings on a real-time and live basis. Referring to the judgment of M.R. Vijay Bhaskar vs Chief Election Commissioner, the journalists have claimed that if access to virtual courts is wiped out, then the exercise of Fundamental Rights would become impossible./ILNS/AV/SNG