Kerala High Court
Kerala High Court
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Kerala HC asks Centre to respond on plea to allow movement of Lawyers amid COVID-19 Lockdown, considering "Access to Justice" rights

Meera Emmanuel

The Kerala High Court has asked the Central Government to file a formal response on whether lawyers can be allowed to move during the COVID-19, in genuine cases for the purpose of filing and accessing resources in their offices, specially considering that access to justice is recognised as an important right.

The request for such movement was moved by the Kerala High Court Advocates' Assocation this morning. The Division Bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and TR Ravi were hearing the suo motu PIL registered by the Court to monitor issues that may crop up in the State amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Appearing for the Association, Advocate Lakshmi Narayan Prabhu told the Court that the KHCAA was not seeking the free movement of lawyers. Rather, he emphasised that in genuine cases, for the purpose of filing cases or accessing their offices, lawyers should be allowed to move during the lockdown and lawyers' offices must be allowed to function with minimal staff.

Advocate Narayan added that lawyers were an indispensable part of the justice delivery system and that they were ready to comply with any condition imposed by the Court if their movement is allowed for such necessary purposes.

In response, Additional Advocate General Ranjith Thampan told the Court that it was not up to the Kerala State Government to decide on the issue.

The AAG submitted that while the State of Kerala has not taken a stance against the functioning of lawyers amid the COVID-19 lockdown, the State would have to comply with the directives of the Central Government and the National Disaster Management Authority.

He added that Ernakulam is presently a declared COVID-19 'Hotspot', and therefore there were several restriction norms applicable. Such being the case, it was submitted that it was up to the Central Government to take a call.

The Bench, in turn, observed, that since the High Court is functioning through video conferencing, lawyers would also be required to function. Further, the Court also took note of the KHCAA's submissions that the resources required by lawyers to work lay in their offices.

The Central Government Counsel, Advocate Jaishankar V Nair, however, submitted that there were certain difficulties in allowing the movement of lawyers during the lockdown. For one, he pointed out that if an exemption is given to legal professionals, exemption for professionals from other sectors may also have to be considered.

With specific reference to inter-district travel in Kerala, Nair also submitted that there were more travel restrictions in play since Ernakulam is a COVID-19 hotspot.

All the same, the Court queried whether the issue could be given more thought given that the access to justice has been recognised by the Supreme Court an important right. Therefore, the Bench directed that the Central Government file a formal response on the issue, particularly from the angle of the right to access to justice. The matter will be taken up next on April 24.

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