Tuesday, August 9, 2022

SCBA to write to CJI again on SOP, advocates to march to India Gate on March 25 evening

The SCBA said it has decided to take out a peaceful candle-light march on March 25, 2021, at 4.30 PM from Supreme Court to India Gate to show solidarity against the said SOP.

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The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has unanimously decided to write a letter to the Chief Justice of India, requesting him to hear them against the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Apex Court for hybrid physical hearing without any consultation with the Bar.

In a letter dated March 23, 2021, the SCBA said it has decided to take out a peaceful candle-light march on March 25, 2021, at 4.30 PM from Supreme Court to India Gate to show solidarity against the said SOP. Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, the SCBA President, has requested all members to participate in the candle march in large numbers.

Speaking to the media after an urgent meeting of the Executive Committee, Singh said as per the discussion among senior members and members and considering the views of SCBA Vice President Senior Advocate Pradeep Rai, the SCBA has decided to write a letter to the Chief Justice of India once more.

The contents of the SCBA letter, signed by Singh, to its members is reproduced below:

“With a deep sense of anguish I am writing this letter to bring out the recent events in the Supreme Court. The onset of the pandemic was the basis for a lockdown to be imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs resulting in the virtual system being adopted as an interim measure to keep the wheels of justice moving, said the letter.

The virtual hearing system because of its own challenges could accommodate very few matters to be listed and hence litigants and the average Advocates were the biggest sufferers. Mentioning of matters was completely barred in the virtual system.

It was expected that when the unlock happens under the Disaster Management Act, the Courts will also re-open with normal physical hearings like Government offices. Far some unknown reasons, and that too without consulting the Bar, the online hearings continued.

The unlock guidelines on January 27, 2021 permitting 100% occupancy of cinema halls where persons sit side by side and that too for long duration and also permitting 200 people in a closed room for marriages (where people take out their masks to eat food) gave an indication that Courts which may have similar seating/gathering (of course with the mask on) would result in opening of the Courts for normal physical hearings.

However, nothing happened in the month of February and our erstwhile President having resigned, there was nobody to take up the issue of physical hearing with the Chief Justice of India or with the Judges Committee.

The Committee of Judges issued an SOP on March 05, 2021 accordingly without consulting the Bar. Before that date, SCBA present Executive Committee had met the CJI on March 01, 2021 and highlighted the problems of the Bar and urged for immediate physical opening of the Supreme Court.

The Meeting was followed up by a detailed letter of the undersigned dated March 02, 2021 addressed to the CJI with copies marked to the judges of the committee.

One of the issues raised on March 01, 2021 was w.r.t. entry of Advocates in the high security zone to go to the libraries, lockers, lounges etc. It was pointed out to the CJI that the places given to the SCBA are for all practical purposes under the control of SCBA and the Registry should not have any right to put fetters on the ingress and egress to those areas. The said issue was agreed to by the CJI.

Surprisingly, on the same date another circular was issued by the Supreme Court registry in compliance of the meeting held with the CJI on March 01, 2021 permitting unhindered access to the members of the Bar in the High security zone, however, on the same date vide the impugned SOP the members of the bar were forbidden from entry into the High Security of Zone.

On March 06, 2021, the date of promulgation of SOP SCBA have been requesting for a meeting with the CJI or with the Judges of the Committee and no meeting till date has been called. SCBA simultaneously called for an urgent meeting of discussed that an SOP made without consulting the Bar is unacceptable and accordingly unanimously decided to challenge the same.

Some of the grounds taken in the Writ Petition were:-

(a)Virtual hearing cannot be equated to conventional open hearing or open hearing as envisaged under Article 145 of the Constitution of India.

(b) The Supreme Court is inconsistent by passing orders on judicial side as if the pandemic is over and taking a complete bolt face on the Administrative side.

(c)The judges come through a sterile route to the courtroom and there are glass partitions that separate judges from the lawyers and litigants and the problem, if any, is of crowding at the lawyers end and the lawyers are not being consulted.

(d) The positivity rate in Delhi is hovering around 3% for the last 6-8 weeks and more than 95% of Covid beds are unoccupied. As per WHO below 5% being normal.

(e) Right of the registry to mute in the virtual system is completely contrary to the concept of open hearing.

(f) Virtual hearing cannot be permitted in the Supreme Court on a long term basis as it would disturb the level playing field by permitting the Lawyers to argue from locations where the members of association have no opportunity to argue due to lack of reciprocity.

(g) Heavily crowded places like Malls and Airports are already fully functional.

(h) While full physical hearing was SCBA demand, we were ready for hybrid hearing as an interim with all Courts functioning fully all days along with the right to mentioning of urgent matters.

The Writ Petition was listed on March 12, 2021 and the Court called upon the Registry to clarify whether the Bar was consulted or not.

The Writ Petition was again listed on March 16, 2021 when the Court being satisfied that the Bar has not been adequately consulted passed an order directing the Secretary General to request the Judges Committee to fix an early meeting with the Bar so that the issues arising from the SOP are ironed out.

During the hearing held on March 13, 2021, an issue arose w.r.t. medical opinion against opening of Court. The Court was informed that the medical opinion was completely unreliable and did not merit any importance as the same medical board had directed that election of 2200 SCBA members cannot be held physically when general elections in several states have been held physically in October last year when the pandemic was at its peak.

The matter was again listed on Tuesday when the Court informed us that the judges committee have already looked into everything and accordingly there is no need of a further meeting. We were also informed that if the Bar has any problem with the SOP, they may write to the registrar. We are now constrained to take strong steps to restore the status of the Bar as an equal stakeholder in this institution.

Read Also: Fresh sale of electoral bonds: Supreme Court reserves order

In view of the above events, an urgent meeting of the Executive Committee was held on Tuesday wherein it was decided that the Members of the SCBA shall protest in a dignified manner and stage a candle march on March 25, 2021 from the Supreme Court to India Gate, I request all of you to participate in the candle march in large numbers.”


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