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The Court has not prohibited the operationalisation of lawyers' offices nor has it passed any order allowing movement contrary to the COVID-19 lockdown, it has been clarified. In other words, the status quo will continue
The Kerala High Court today refrained to pass orders for or against the plea by the Kerala High Court Advocates' Association (KHCAA) to exempt the movement of lawyers during the COVID-19 lockdown in genuine cases, particularly when it comes to inter-district travel.
The Association had sought for such an exemption on behalf of lawyers, in genuine cases for the purpose of filing and accessing resources in their offices. Further, it was also prayed that lawyers' offices be allowed to function with minimal staff.
A Division Bench comprising of Justices Devan Ramachandran and TR Ravi today declined to pass orders allowing this plea, after the Central Government told the Court that it was against granting any special exemption to lawyers amid the lockdown. The Court clarified that it would appraise the situation when the Lockdown is lifted or on May 3.
The Court was dealing with suo motu PIL registered to monitor issues that may crop up in the State amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
In the earlier hearing, the Kerala High Court had 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.
Appearing for the Centre today, Advocate Jaishankar V Nair informed the Court that it was not possible to grant any exemption for lawyers, adding that if permission is granted at this stage, it would bring a lot of people on the road, which is against the Central Government's lockdown norms.
Additional Advocate General Ranjith Thampan, in turn, stated that Kerala is bound to follow what the Centre says.
However, AAG Thampan added that there were reports that Chartered Accountants were being exempted on some days from the lockdown in Kerala. Whereas the Court queried after this aspect, the Central Government Counsel informed that he had no instructions on the same.
At this juncture, another lawyer interjected that the Centre had misunderstood the present grievance raised in the matters and the exemption of lawyers from the lockdown was sought keeping in view that the access to justice is extremely essential.
All the same, the Court proceeded to opine during its forenoon sitting that it will take a call on the issue after appraising the situation when the lockdown ends.
In the afternoon, the counsel for the Association, Advocate Lakshmi Narayan mentioned the matter, reiterating that lawyers should be given access to computer facilities, library etc. since access to justice is essential.
However, he pointed out that his prayer was particularly focused on allowing the inter-district travel of lawyers in genuine cases, adding that the lawyers were ready to comply with any condition imposed by the Court if such movement is allowed for necessary purposes.
At this point, another lawyer, Advocate Hariraj informed the Court that based on certain media reports, there was some misrepresentation that the Court had issued directions for a ban on the movement of lawyers. The Court was further told that the police have been stopping the movement of lawyers, therefore.
In response, the High Court clarified that it has not passed any such order to change status quo, whereby lawyers are being allowed to move for urgent purposes during the lockdown on the basis of affidavits.
The Bench orally observed that the High Court never stopped any lawyer from moving provided that it is in compliance with the general norms of lockdown as set by the district and state government authorities.
The Court further held that all such movement of lawyers shall be guided by the imperatives of the lockdown guidelines.
The Court has not prohibited the operationalisation of lawyers offices nor has it passed any order allowing movement contrary to the COVID-19 lockdown, it was emphasised.