SCBA- Sorry, Your Slip Is Showing Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan It is surprising. But not shocking. Yet, singularly unfortunate that the Supreme Court Bar Association – SCBA- has strongly opposed the ‘Hybrid Hearings’ on offer from the top court

SCBA- Sorry, Your Slip Is Showing

Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan

It is surprising. But not shocking. Yet, singularly unfortunate that the Supreme Court Bar Association – SCBA- has strongly opposed the ‘Hybrid Hearings’ on offer from the top court. On the physical and Virtual platforms, simultaneously, on offer, for Supreme Court hearings.

SCBA has vowed to legally challenge it. Why? The reasons are not far to seek and see. They are too obvious, for SCBA to allude and elaborate. The stand of SCBA is understandable from ‘their’ perspective, albeit not so euphemistic, in preserving and protecting their members’ self-interest. Is it fair? Does it help public/litigant cause, and those who are not residents and cannot have access without incurring huge costs, to/in Delhi?

There is no gain saying that the Covid19 Pandemic is a curse. And an ongoing one. Only the battle is won, as there is plateauing of the afflicted, even as a host of vaccines are hitting arms. The War is still on.

No nation is yet in a state, to get back to Pre-Pandemic normality. Mask Mandate is here to stay, for at least a year, according to expert epidemiologists. And social distancing norms, are not going anywhere, as yet.

In such a scenario, the SCBA opposition to the Hybrid platform, is near suicidal or too self-interested. Be that as it may, the tone and tenor of the vehemence, to challenge the hybrid beast of utility, welcome new kid on the block, is a complete give away, to the not so underlying but apparent intent. SCBA is ‘concerned and worried’ for the ‘financial health’ of its members. Very touching indeed!

SCBA is paranoid that the Virtual platform may eat into the vitals of the ‘interests’ of its members a.k.a. ‘appearances’ before the apex court. The near monopoly of appearances of its members, in the physical avatar, runs the risk of being overrun. Already, we can see the seeds of the benefits Internet of things Virtual, when practitioners, from across India, could access and appear for their clients.

And the prohibitive costs of visits to Delhi, conferences, engaging Seniors, enlisting the services of more than one, lest one or the other cried off at the nick of time, and undeniably stratospheric fee structures, were felled in one swoop. All for the good of the litigant public and adding muscle and credibility to the resilience of Judiciary as an institution, a repository of easy access, for all round justice.

The Virtual platform came as a boon to Judiciary, at large (comprising the Bar, Bench and litigants et al) and not as bane for the practitioners. It exposed the myth that ‘Delhi had all the answers’. Attorneys from far flung corners of India, with digital access, got their day on the national stage, to bust the myth, possibly for ever.

A couple of puisne judges from two High Courts, outside of Madras, joined in by one on the Supreme Court Bench, who shall remain nameless, agreed, “We found such outstation appearances to be revealing and refreshing. Knowledge and competence from anywhere, must be welcome and we cannot afford to miss this one faculty, an epiphany of sorts, gained in these troubling times, for anything. Virtual is now real and the pluses overwhelm the minuses and all stakeholders must be ad idem, to exploit this positivity. We should embrace the hybrid route, to tuck into the talent pool available Pan India, and enabling huge reduction in costs, in the cause of justice. If the erudition of Harish Salve was available in Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat from his home in London, and Mukul Rohatgi in Mumbai and Madurai, from Delhi, and more of such like, it would be height of stupidity to miss out on it”. Need I add more.

We had Virtual book releases – Harvard’s Michael Sandel authored Tyranny of Merit, Wharton’s Adam Grant- Think again and our own Abhishek Singhvi’s co authored work ….. Would we miss this trick for anything now?

The benefits are huge and it would be downright idiocy to let it go. Another critical facet of humongous significance is that the Hybrid variant has seamlessly enabled the literal setting up of Regional/District/Village/Taluk level Benches of the Supreme Court, making mincemeat of the reluctance of the apex court and reticence of Parliament to oblige. Can there be a better display of democratisation of the justice delivery and dispensation system, than the Virtual variant? Possibly a permanent Vaccine, for making available the Supreme Court, at the doorstep of the Aam Aadmi, literally for free.

One can go on and on. It would be carrying coal to the SCBA Newcastle. They are too smart not to know this. Or more of it. They are just being ostrich like in their opposition for it ‘suits’ them and more importantly ‘fits their bill’. You get it?

If SCBA set such a bad example, perched at the top, as they are, imagine the cascading impact on the local bar associations in each State and Union Territory. They would love to hate the Hybrid. For more of the same and worse reasons. Not for good, valid and/or laudable reasons. But, for all the wrong reasons.

And that is not Good. Greed is Good. But yielding to logic, reason, public good and Virtual Reality, is better.

Come on, SCBA, you are better than this. Work for the welfare of the litigants and public, and not for the welfare of us practitioners alone. That may, any day, be an altruistic, chivalrous, and a worthier cause!

( Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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