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Plea to allow commute of Mumbai Lawyers in special local trains running during COVID-19 pandemic: Bombay HC seeks State response

A petition in the Bombay High Court challenges the exclusion of advocates from the government's list of essential services workers entitled to commute in Mumbai Local trains amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The Bombay High Court today issued notice in a petition filed by three lawyers seeking a declaration of legal services as essential for the purpose of travel in Mumbai local trains that are allowed to run for the commute of essential services workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Chirag Chanani v. Union of India and Ors.)

A Division Bench of Justices AA Sayed and MS Karnik has asked the respondent State and Railways Commissioner to clarify their stance by way of an affidavit.

The petitioners were represented by Advocate Shyam Dewani briefed by Dewani Associates.

Three Bombay High Court lawyers, Advocates Chirag Chanani, Vinay Kumar, and Sumit Khanna, have challenged a decision by the Government of Maharashtra that effectively prevents legal practitioners from boarding the local trains for commute.

By a Circular dated June 19, 2020, the Divisional Railway Manager’s Office enumerated categories of workers who were declared as “essential services staff." Legal practitioners have not been included in the list, despite their services being “essential”, the petitioners contend.

The petitioner-lawyers argue that since Lawyers/Advocates assist the public in accessing justice, apart the assistance they render in Courts of law, their services are vital to the course of justice.

In a judgment of the Supreme Court, it was stated that the “administration of justice and the part to be played by the Advocates in the system must be looked into from the point of view of litigant public and the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 and right to free legal aid as contemplated under Article 39A of the Constitution of India.” (All India Justice Association v. Union of India).

From this viewpoint, a legal practitioner is a participant in the justice delivery system, the petitioners highlight.

The reopening of Courts from June 8, 2020 has resulted in “tremendous inconvenience” for advocates who live away from the Courts and have no alternative means to reach Court, the petitioners submit.

“... as now the courts are functioning and most of the Lawyers/Advocates /Advocates have their offices in town and they reside in suburbs, it is inevitable to consider the travel provisions of Lawyers/Advocates by State authorities.”
the petition states.

Referring to an order by the Delhi High Court dated May 18, 2020, that declared legal services to be essential services for the purpose of granting e-passes, the petitioners note that similar directions were issued to the State of Uttar Pradesh as well.

Further, the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act 2017 itself includes officers of the High Court in their list of persons rendering essential services. Arguing that lawyers are officers of the Court, the petition states that “there is absolutely no logical reasoning to restrict the Lawyers/Advocates from travelling by local trains to reach the courts.”

The petition also notes that a representation was made by the Chairman of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa on June 19 requesting that Advocates and staff of the Bar Council be permitted to travel by local trains.

The matter will next be taken up next on July 21.

Read the Order:

Chirag Chanani & Ors. v UOI and ors.pdf

Read the Petition Here:

Chirag Chanani and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. - Petition.pdf
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