VIRTUALISATION OF FILING AND HEARING PROCESS - BCI'S RESPONSE - MY VIEWS
2 recent press releases by the 'Bar Council of India' ("BCI") in the wake of COVID-19 lockdown prompted me to write this post.
One: BCI's press release dated 20.05.2020, wherein BCI has inter alia criticised the manner in which several courts are virtualising their filing and hearing process; and
Two: BCI's press release dated 22.05.2020, wherein BCI has decided to open 4 video conferencing rooms in its premises to assist lawyers overcome technical challenges.
At the outset, let me clarify that in so far as the first press release mentioned herein-above, my views in this post are limited to part on "Resumption of Regular Hearings".
BCI's CRITICISM ON THE MODUS OPERANDI OF VIRTUALISATION
I fully concur with the BCI's criticism in this regard.
This sudden spurt of virtualisation should be limited till the COVID - 19 scare subsides. I strongly disagree with any attempts to propagate this virtualisation as permanent, especially by privileged lawyers. Apart from creating panic among lawyers across the country for their professional sustenance, it severely hampers with a common man's 'access to justice'.
However, when the courts/tribunals should resume physical operation would be a subjective decision. I don't have the necessary expertise to comment in this regard. I hope the Constitutional Courts will decide on the issue, balancing the scales of health concerns on one hand and difficulties being faced by general public and advocates on the other.
While the Supreme Court's registry is seemingly trying its best to deal with this unforeseen situation, the manner in which the process is being implemented is extremely uninspiring.
When a common lawyer has to wait for weeks to even get a response on her/his mentioning application, the privileged few have been able to get their matters filed and listed in an jiffy. While I don't attribute any motives, the optics of such a process, far from inspiring confidence, severely hampers institutional morale.
BCI's RESPONSE TO OPEN VIDEO CONFERENCING ROOMS
BCI is the statutory regulator for all advocates in India (numbering over 1.5 million). It is entrusted with the duty to take broad policy decisions for the advancement of legal profession all over the nation.
I sincerely doubt whether opening 4 conference rooms in its premises will make any meaningful contribution. Even if every Bar Council in this country, along with the numerous Bar Associations, open 4 conference rooms each, they cannot even cater to a minuscule percentage of practicing advocates.
While its decision seems to be with honest intentions to contribute its part in these troubled times, its resources will be better spent if BCI works on broader policy initiatives in this regard.
For example, it could work towards a subject on 'utilisation of technology in legal profession' for law students so that the next generation of lawyers will feel confident to face digitisation initiatives. Wielding its position as parens patriae of legal community, it could work on propagating basic utilisation of technology for lawyers in the current scenario.
Everyone is perplexed with the 'COVID situation'. I believe that every person/ institution in-charge is trying their best to cope up with the situation and most shortcomings are unintentional.
However, institutional reactions/decisions in such times should not be knee-jerk, but aim towards long-term betterment of the system as a whole.
I will address a separate post on my views/ suggestions on the virtual filing and hearing process.