More than 100 women lawyers practicing before the Supreme Court have written to the Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana and other judges of the Supreme Court requesting them to continue providing the option to appear in cases through virtual mode for lawyers and litigants who wish to avail the same.
The signatories including Senior Advocates Pinky Anand, Indira Jaising, Geeta Luthra, Garima Prashad, Madhavi Divan, Aparajita Singh and Aishwarya Bhati while welcoming the decision to resume physical hearings at the top court, also urged the Court to refrain from shutting the door of access provided by hybrid hearings.
“Your lordships will appreciate that the sudden digital revolution in the courts proved to be a blessing in disguise for a large cross section of regular Bar, especially women lawyers, young lawyers and elderly lawyers," the representation said.
At the very outset, the representation expressed hope that the judges would appreciate the cause with sensitivity, empathy and a “gender positive approach”.
In this regard, the representation explained that digital courts have proved to be “more equal” for women with care-giving responsibilities, pregnant women, mothers and those who have to tend to elders.
Due to the lack of support system, several women lawyers had either given up their profession or their role as principal caregivers before the advent of digital hearings.
Digital hearing helped women lawyers juggle their professional work and personal responsibilities, it was stated.
“Women lawyers have always struggled to balance their role as principal caregivers in the family, with the demands of the profession. Many of us did not have the wherewithal or the support system to carry on with both set of, often mutually competing responsibilities and therefore, just gave up on one front. However, digital hearings allowed us to juggle our responsibilities without forsaking or abandoning either,” the representation said.
The representation also argued that considering the large amount of funds that have been infused into the virtual hearing system, it is important to take forward the gains made during the pandemic.
Hence, "extremely empowering" digital platforms should continue to be an option for the members of the bar and citizens of the country, to continue to have true and meaningful access to justice as guaranteed under our constitution, the lawyers stated.
Earlier, a group of young lawyers had requested the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Chairperson of e-committee of Apex court, Justice DY Chandrachud to continue the system of virtual/ hybrid hearing of cases at the top court on all days including Wednesdays and Thursdays when only physical hearings are currently allowed.
These lawyers who have less than 7 years experience at the Bar, had highlighted the advantages that virtual hearing offers in terms of accessibility to the Supreme Court from distant places and increased transparency.
The Supreme Court had started hearing cases virtually in March 2020 when COVID-19 pandemic struck. It had attempted to revert to physical hearing March 2021 when the third wave struck.
The top court had, therefore, continued virtual hearing till October 2021.
On October 7, 2021 a standard operating procedure (SOP) was issued mandating that all cases on Wednesday and Thursday will be heard only physically.
This SOP was modified on October 22, 2021 leaving a window open for some cases to be conducted virtually but at the discretion of the Bench or if courts room is overcrowded.