Author is an Advocate practicing at Chennai, currently serving as the Public Prosecutor for the UT of Puducherry at the Madras High Court)
The functioning of most Courts in the Country is severely restricted in view of the Covid-19 Pandemic as Social Distancing is the only Sanjeevani medicine. While on the one hand the experts and the Government brainstrom whether to continue the lockdown or relax fully /partially , there is this parallel debate as to the extent and manner of functioning of the Courts. To my surprise, some of the Bar Leaders are advocating suspending of functioning of Courts. Their contention, life is above everything and we, the Learned Brethren should in no way cause slightest discomfort to the frontline warriors. The Hon’ble High Courts with the able guidance of the Supreme Court of India will eventually figure out the solution. The e-committees of the various High Courts including that of our Madras High Court are reportedly working overtime and are bracing to cope up with the sudden imminent needs. Thinking aloud for myself and sharing the views of likeminded advocates , I thought I should record these thoughts for everyone’s consideration :
Conflict Resolution – The Lifeline of Societies :
Courts are both the independent arm of the State and also the Community’s civilized resort for resolution of all types of conflicts. A Judgment of the District Munsif Court in a civil suit in a boundary dispute between neighbours, is not just solving their problem alone. It has a tremendous reassuring effect in the street, neighbourhood and the community at large. It is the availability of this mechanism which reassures the Rule of Law and shuns people away from violence. Unresolved conflicts are cancerous to society in many ways. The very psyche of a common man facing adversity from individuals or from State and its authorities is shattered and he can’t be left hopeless. Nothing need be mentioned about the effective implementation of the Criminal Justice System, lest we slip into a police state. The Hallmark of Civilization, the Wheels of Justice have to be rolling.
The Case of the Lawyers – The Livelihood Question :
Taleb, in his famous work, ‘The Black Swan’ categorises professionals like authors, film makers etc., on a higher pedestal, for their work once done keeps generating revenue, than those who have to do work every day, whom he places at the bottom of the pyramid. As an advocate, one does not get paid for his yesterday’s arguments. Every day he has to perform and get paid. Except for the Creamy Layer, who stand way above the rest in terms of professional earnings, the vast majority of the legal profession is labour intensive and has a higher percentage of recurrent expenditure like office rent, salaries, subscriptions etc and on an average upto 40% of the earnings are expenditure, including payment of monthly stipends and salaries. Thus, it is not just about maintaining oneself and his family but to maintain the professional set up and office. An average lawyer who earns Rs. 50,000/- per month definitely has a recurring expenditure of atleast Rs, 20,000/- as rent, payment to law-clerk, junior etc., and suspension of Court work is no solution. Afterall, until the gardener returns, the saplings must be alive.
Remote Functioning – The Win-Win Situation :
Therefore, the balance lies in the remote functioning of the Court and technology comes to the rescue. By this method, the Social Distancing is maintained while the Judicial functions are discharged and Justice delivered. The Supreme Court of India itself has shown the way by hearing as much as 593 matters and delivering verdicts in 215 cases via video conferencing during this lockdown period. A visit to the websites of the various High Courts would also show that they are also not lagging behind and have been rendering number of judgements. And we need more and more such remote functioning and the volume has to be increased by concerted efforts of all concerned.
Laywers – The Attitude & Etiquette :
There is this cliché among the legal fraternity that “I am not familiar with all this” & “at this age I can’t learn all this”. First, all of us have to acknowledge that this stereotype is sans truth. Proven Adult Learning principles across the globe indicate that adults learn (a) if it is necessary and relevant for them; (b) by practice . Many of us found that it is difficult to use these gadgets, digital platforms etc., because at the bottom of our mind, the lingering thought is that ‘I don’t need this’ ‘ this is not necessary for me’ and that ‘I can survive without these’. But now that reality dawns, all adults will learn and learn quickly. Of course, every change initially encounters resistance. The etiquette and adaptation for the new Virtual Court environment is very important. It’s really disheartening to note the appearances without even a shirt (Thank God with the baniyan on) or full television noises impairing court proceedings. Be that an audio phone call or a video conferencing, it is necessary that we attend from a proper part of our homes , as private place as possible, avoiding unnecessary noises. Keep a set of uniform & the Robes ready. Always be fully dressed. Even if the robes are not readily available subject to the rules of your concerned court, never appear without a full sleeve white shirt / Top. Camera angles may change – Do not believe in the memes showing dressed up in the upper body alone. One has to imagine that he is inside the Court hall and attend these audio/video calls. Whenever you login to Court meeting, keep your voice muted upfront and unmute and speak when your case comes up for hearing. Even during the hearing of the case, unmute only when you want to speak. Many platforms permit artificial backgrounds. Set up plain backgrounds for these conferences. Use ‘raise the hand option’ for interrupting or asking for permission. Ensure proper internet connection and intimate the Court or other-side if you do not have one. Be a little more kind to other-side and fellow laywers and be a little patient when they are slow or when their connections are unstable. Powers cuts can happen, if the other-side wants a little time and if the Court is comfortable please accommodate. Help the Technologically challenged with little inputs. Friends from every bar can conduct mock meetings and understand the icons, facilities and necessities of various platforms and tools. It is the Court which is extending virtually to homes and not the otherway around.
Two pronged approach: –
The Hon’ble Courts and the Governments working on the Technological updation and provision of platforms, e-filing etc. and strengthening the system, Technical Training to the Lawyers, Court Staff and the Judges have to be adopted ; Simultaneously, remote functioning in small ways have to be attempted like filing and response through email and the hearing of the cases through simple telephone calls and video calls through mobile phones, video conferences and meetings through various platforms etc., starting from in the District Munsif and Magistrate Courts, should happen at all Courts at least in a small way , say 5 cases per day. The effective and immediate functioning of Courts is in how we look at and understand this phrase –
‘The Remote Possibility’ !
Views Are Personal Only
(Author is an Advocate practicing at Chennai, currently serving as the Public Prosecutor for the UT of Puducherry at the Madras High Court)