A petition has been moved before the Supreme Court by a lawyers' body challenging the decision of the Uttarakhand High Court to revert to full physical functioning from August 24 to the exclusion of virtual mode of hearing cases.
The petition has challenged an August 16 notification issued by the High Court which said that the Court will resume normal judicial work only through physical mode from August 24, 2021 and no request for virtual hearing will be entertained.
Importantly, the plea filed by All India Jurists Association, a body of more than 5,000 lawyers across the country, and journalist Sparsh Upadhyay of Livelaw also sought a declaration that right to participate in court proceedings through virtual courts via video conference is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) and (g) of the Constitution.
The plea filed through advocate Sriram Parakkat and drawn by advocates Siddharth R Gupta and Prerna Robin stated that the August 16 notification of the Uttarakhand High Court is a death knell for the very idea of virtual courts which is an accessible, affordable justice in the country as observed by the E-Committee of Supreme Court.
Pertinently, the plea besides challenging the decision of the Uttarakhand High Court, also sought a direction to restrain all High Courts from denying access to lawyers through virtual mode of hearing and video conference on the ground of availability of the option of physical hearing.
"The occasion of seeking the said relief has arisen in the view of the fact that large number of advocates of the Petitioner association as also those across the Country are compelled to appear physically before many Courts of the respective High Courts, in view of commencement of physical hearing in the High Courts," the plea said.
Apart from Uttarakhand, the petitioner also cited instances of Bombay, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala High Courts compelling lawyers to appear physically.
The plea stated that virtual courts and conducting cases through video conference by resorting to use of information, communication and technology is a fundamental right available to every lawyer under Article 19(1)(a) and (g) of the Constitution of India.
Such access cannot be defeated or dispensed with on procedural grounds of lack of technology or infrastructure or inconvenience of the courts in handling them, the petitioner submitted.
"We live in an age of information and are witness to a technological revolution that pervades almost every aspect of our lives. Redundancies and obsolescence are as ubiquitous as technology itself. Technology is a great enabler. Technology can be harnessed by the State in furthering access to justice and fostering good governance," the plea stated.
In this regard, the petition placed reliance on the judgment of the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India in which it was held that the right to access to the internet and various applications/websites is a facet of various Fundamental Rights and Freedoms available under Article 19 of the Constitution of India
The plea also cited the judgment of the top court in Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court.
"The judgment categorically held that in the fast changing globalised world, it is obligatory for the Indian Judiciary to use Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) in the most optimal manner to make Justice available at the cheapest possible price for one and all," the petitioner contended.
Thus, apart from seeking to quash the August 16 notification issued by the Uttarakhand High Court, the plea also prayed for a direction to be issued to various High Courts to ensure that lawyers are not denied the benefit of attending any category/class of proceeding being conducted before High Court including mention memo/court slip proceedings, motion hearing/ admission matters or final hearing disputes, only on the ground that they have opted for virtual court hearing instead of a physical mode of hearing.