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A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed before the Gujarat High Court, after President of Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association (GHCAA) Yatin Oza decided to run a poll eliciting views on physical functioning of courts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition moved by advocate Amit Panchal points out that GHCAA's move of conducting the online poll using a Google Form (which was circulated via a WhatsApp message) came hours after the Bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath along with Justices RM Chhaya and JB Pardiwala told the office bearers of GHCAA,
"...that a questionnaire would be brought out from the Court’s side in order to know the opinion of the members of the Bar on whether the Court could function normally or through virtual hearings".
To complete this exercise, the Court proposed to give the advocates a window of one week.
However, the plea contends that even before the time for responding to the High Court’s questionnaire lapsed, the President GHCAA wrote to the Chief Justice stating that as per the poll conducted by it, about 64% of the members of the association had expressed their desire that courts function physically instead of virtually.
It was submitted that this was done in order to influence the decision of the High Court of Gujarat, which was already in the process of seeking the opinion of the members of the Bar.
Moreover, the plea goes on to argue that the results of the poll conducted by the Association itself has no legal sanctity. In the absence of a General Body Meeting, an online poll can at best be regarded as informal in nature, the plea states.
Relying on various Supreme Court decisions, the PIL submits that the decision to conduct proceedings either physically or through virtual hearings is a decision that has to be taken by the High Court.
Petition filed before Gujarat HC
The petition also pointed out that the past few days have witnessed a divide among the GHCAA members itself, with Oza first resigning on June 2, followed by the withdrawal of his resignation within a few hours. His decision to resign was owing to his helplessness in resolving issues of junior advocates who are in a dire state amid the limited functioning of courts.
Therefore, the plea seeks to declare the actions of GHCAA, i.e., issuing the WhatsApp message and conducting the voting poll, as illegal and contrary to established judicial discipline.
The PIL also prays to restrain GHCAA from passing any further resolution with respect to the functioning of courts via video conferencing or physical hearing.
This apart, the PIL also sought for directing the authorities for framing appropriate rules under the Gujarat High Court Rules, with regard to proper conduct and discipline of members of the legal profession.