All India Association of Jurists moves Supreme Court to stay Uttarakhand HC's order terminating functioning of virtual courts

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Representative Image

New Delhi [India], August 23 (ANI): All Indian Association of Jurists and advocates, representing around 5,000 lawyers across the country, has filed a Writ Petition before the Supreme Court seeking an immediate stay of the administrative order passed by the Registrar General of the Uttarakhand High Court terminating the functioning of virtual courts and thereby, compelling all the lawyers to conduct their cases through physical mode only.

The petition, filed before the Supreme Court, was drawn and settled by counsel Siddharth R. Gupta, and has been filed through AOR (Advocate On Record) Shriram Parakkat, and journalist and online legal correspondent, Sparsh Upadhaya.

The petition, a copy accessed by ANI, filed before Supreme Court sought a direction to declare virtual court hearing as a fundamental right and to continue virtual hearings in all High Courts.

The plea specifically challenged 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 raises an important plea of declaration of 'access to virtual courts' by both the counsel as well as the client as a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India, which cannot be terminated casually and cursorily by the High Court through an administrative order, the petition filed before the Supreme Court said.

The petition which has also impleaded Registrar Generals of 3 High Courts of the country -- Madhya Pradesh High Court, Bombay High Court and the Kerala High Court -- pleaded that the SOPs on paper though permit virtual hearings, but many courtrooms are compelling and coercing lawyers to appear only physically by not conveniently providing joining links virtually for attending their cases through a virtual mode in the hybrid model adopted by them.

The petition also said that post COVID- 19 pandemic, after commissioning and installation of the entire virtual court infrastructure in the Constitutional Courts (in the High Courts of the country) if there is any denial of access to the facility of conducting cases through virtual mode, then this is a denial of Fundamental Rights under Article 19 read with 21 of the Constitution of India.

It, thus, sought a direction restraining the Registrar Generals of all the 4 High Courts from denying access to virtual courts through video conferencing to any lawyer intending to opt for the same only on the ground that physical hearing in the concerned High Court has commenced and the said mode of physical hearing must be preferred, the petition said.

The Uttarakhand High Court recently through its Registrar General passed an Administrative Order which read: "The Court is pleased to direct that the Court will resume normal judicial work only through the physical mode from August 24, 2021, and no request for a virtual hearing will be entertained by the High Court."

The petition further said that the Preamble of the Constitution of India, read with Articles 38 and 39 enjoin the Constitutional Courts of the country to make justice accessible, affordable and economic in nature where everybody can have easy and convenient access to the same, the petition said.

The petitioners have thus pleaded that access to virtual courts for dispensation of justice by the counsel or the client is an essential facet of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and thus cannot be lightly denied to the lawyers.

The journalists in turn have pleaded that the denial to virtual access of courts in fact has the effect of denying them the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) as they would be denied their right to report the proceedings on a real-time and live basis, the petition said.

Referring to the judgment of M R Vijay Bhaskar against the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), the journalists have claimed that if access to virtual courts is wiped out, then exercise of Fundamental Rights would become impossible, the petition filed before the Supreme Court said. (ANI)

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