- Apprentice Lawyer
2020 was certainly a year of surprises for the judiciary, with video conference hearings becoming the "new normal" for justice dispensation.
Apart from passing significant judgments and hearing important matters, in the past year, the Karnataka High Court grabbed headlines for its oral observations in cases and its approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are seven such instances where the Karnataka High Court made it to the headlines in 2020.
In a heart-warming gesture, Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court Abhay Shreeniwas Oka extended a warm welcome to court staff member Mary Josephine, who reported for work after recovering from COVID-19.
Along with CJ Oka, Justices B Veerappa and S Sujatha, and various members of the Registry were also present to welcome Josephine back.
Josephine had contracted COVID-19 last month and was quarantined for 22 days. This act of CJ Oka received showers of praise from advocates and netizens alike.
Sources had informed Bar & Bench that CJ Oka kept a personal list of all judicial officers and court staff who contracted COVID-19, and enquired about their health status everyday.
While granting anticipatory bail to a rape accused, the Karnataka High Court strangely observed in its order that it was "unbecoming" of an alleged rape victim to have fallen asleep after being "ravished".
The order passed by Justice Krishna S Dixit stated,
"...the explanation offered by the complainant that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep, is unbecoming of an Indian woman; that is not the way our women react when they are ravished."
The rape accused was employed by the complainant for the past two years. It was alleged that the accused had developed sexual relations with the complainant on the false pretext of marriage. On the night of the incident, the accused got into the complainant's car and went to her office, where he allegedly raped her.
These observations of Justice Dixit received a fair share of backlash from lawyers and the general public alike. Subsequently, these observations were expunged from the record at the public prosecutor's request.
A Division Bench which also comprised Justice Natraj Rangaswamy orally observed,
"The society always looks down upon the woman. Ours is a patriarchal society. People always say woman empowerment, but the society does not know how to treat an empowered woman. Parents don't teach their sons on how to treat an empowered woman... That is a problem with men, I will say that."
However, the Bench also said that a woman with financial independence and education should know how to deal with her family and the same should not lead to break up of her marriage.
The Bench was rather prompt to further state that in a marriage, the mother-in-law also should not interfere unnecessarily once the wife comes into the picture.
In September, Chief Justice Oka pulled up an advocate for repeatedly sending emails and making calls to the High Court staff in an abusive and disrespectful manner.
The genesis of this issue can be traced back to when the advocate addressed several emails to the Registry, requesting it to post his case for video conference hearing. Subsequently, the advocate had called up the Registrar (Judicial) and went on to speak in a derogatory tone.
Pursuant to this, the advocate addressed an email to the Public Relations Officer (PRO) as well as to the Personal Secretary (PS) to the Chief Justice with a subject line titled “HC authorities not going through the email and not replying properly”.
After reading the entire email during the video conference hearing, CJ Oka said,
"I am telling you only one thing, if anything goes wrong in the High Court, I as the Chief Justice, am responsible. So if you want to abuse any member of staff, then please abuse the Chief Justice and not the staff. It is my duty to protect the staff. I am sitting here, please abuse me now.”
At this point, the advocate began apologizing to the Court. He replied that,
“I have no complaint against the authority, High Court or Chief Justice. I am sorry milords. I seek an apology.”
Back in November, the Karnataka High Court had directed National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore to conduct Special Repeat Exams for a student who had arrears in 18 subjects.
Justice Krishna Dixit observed in his order,
"...after all, in a country like ours, if poverty is not a sin, being poor in intelligence too cannot be; denial of opportunity that was made available to others similarly circumstanced, would be discriminatory & arbitrary; it offends sense of justice and causes to the aggrieved a heart-burn."
The petitioner, who enrolled at NLSIU in 2016, had filed a plea against the University's decision to detain him in his third year of the BA.LL.B course on the ground that he had arrears of papers.
A few months back, the Karnataka High Court had pulled up an advocate who participated in a video conference hearing while sitting inside a car.
When the matter was called out for hearing, the advocate for the petitioners appeared before the Court while sitting inside a car. In response, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi said,
"Though due to extraordinary reasons we are forced to hear matters through video conferencing hearing, we hope and trust members of the bar will follow minimum decorum."
The lawyer had made a request seeking time to file a rejoinder to the statement of objections submitted by the state government in his case and went offline due to network issues.
Thereafter, the Bench orally observed,
"Video conferencing hearing also has some norms. You (lawyer) cannot sit in the car and address the court."
The "new normal" prompted lawyers to adopt creative means to sustain the feel of physical hearings. A shining example of this was when a lawyer insisted on making submissions before the High Court while standing at a makeshift dais.
Before the hearing began, Chief Justice Oka asked Advocate Chidanandayya LM to make his arguments while sitting. To this, the lawyer responded by saying that he was accustomed to arguing while standing.
The Court went on to allow Chidanandayya to make submissions while standing, eventually observing,
"Take a photograph and send it to all the members of the Bar.... You have set up a court-like feeling."