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Continuing Virtual Hearings after lockdown "impractical”, 90% lawyers, judges unaware of technology: BCI Chairman writes to the CJI

Shruti Mahajan

The Chairman of Bar Council of India, Manan Kumar Mishra, has written a letter to the Chief Justice of India expressing his reservations against the idea of continuing video conference hearings after the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted.

In light of the existing health crisis due to COVID-19 across the country, as well as the world over, the Courts in India have suspended the normal functioning and are taking up cases of urgent nature for hearing through video conferencing.

It is with respect to this new procedure adopted by the Courts, particularly the High Courts and the Supreme Court, that Mishra has written a letter to Chief Justice SA Bobde, admitting that while resorting to technology and video conference hearings in such times is the "need of the hour", extending this practice after the lockdown is lifted would be an "impractical thought."

Mishra says that owing to the present unprecedented circumstances, holding hearings virtually is the only way. However,he goes on to register his objection ideas allegedly being propagated by many in the legal fraternity favouring the use of technology for holding virtual hearings even after the lockdown.

In advocating the same, Mishra asserts that many Senior Advocates, retired Judges and even some sitting Judges of the Supreme Court are oblivious to the ground realities of india.

"They are thinking on such a tangent and making such utopian plans, which is as if, they are planning upon implementing and executing such ideas for a fully developed nation like UK, USA, or in some other country other than India."
Manan Kumar Mishra

Mishra highlights that there is significant economic disparities existing in the country to point out that all members of the legal fraternity do not have access to the requisite technological resources. There is a "humongous difference in the technical knowhow" Mishra states, explaining that this gap could be rooted in factors such as one's age or mode of education.

"Justice is expected to permeate to all levels", Mishra goes on to state, adding that people knock on the doors of the Court closest to them after failing to get their grievances redressed by the executive. Many of these Courts, or the Advocates practising there, may not be equipped with the "modern technology" required for e-filing, scanning, and video conferencing.

Mishra goes on to claim that 90 % of the advocates and Judges across the country would not be aware of the technology at use and its nuances, and that they would require some degree of training before the same can be put to use by them. He adds,

"If such practice is encouraged and allowed to continue (even beyond lockdown) there is not an iota of doubt that more than 95% of the advocates of the country will become brief less and work less and the practice of law will be confined to a limited group of lawyers and justice delivery would be badly affected."

Manan Kumar Mishra

Opposing views stated to have been forwarded by former Delhi High Court judge, Justice (retd.) AP Shah on the digitization of Court processes, Mishra says that the "thought process may be advanced, but we cannot be jumping the gun."

"Our thought process is very advanced, and it should be so too, but we can't be jumping the gun and foraying into a totally impractical and unworkable world. It is easy to always spread utopian ideas among the people, but ideas have to always be weighed and balanced with the practical position and its results."
Manan Kumar Mishra

Mishra also speaks of nepotism in the legal industry, stating that by limiting the hold and access of the Courts to a small fraction of all advocates, the legal practice will be grabbed from common lawyers and will be limited in the hands of a few "elite class having the nexus with those big families." Mishra says that the possibility of this "conspiracy" is being apprehended by a vast majority of lawyers.

The Indian Bar is anxious to know of the plans regarding the digitization of proceedings being considered by the e-committee of the Supreme Court, Mishra goes on to inform, raising concern that the Bar is seldom consulted in such issues.

"I am sure that the apprehension of the common lawyers would be proved futile, because our e-committee is being headed by a very efficient Judge, who is down to earth man and a very practical Judge."
Mishra goes on to add.

Mishra also mentions that the BCI had also issued directions to the administrative heads of Legal Education Institutions to continue online education, given the present circumstances. However, he emphasises on the rider that the same is an exception and not the rule. He adds that legal education cannot be complete without classroom training accompanied by other activities.

On a concluding note, Mishra highlights that the prevalent conditions have placed many advocates in a difficult position financially. He states that while the BCI is extending the help it can, the Courts may have to find a safe method to gradually restore its functioning, should the lockdown be extended.

Read the Letter:

Maanan Kumar Mishra's Letter to Hon'ble Chief Justice of India - 28.04.2020.pdf
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