On the 24th of March 2020, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the first lockdown in India for 21 days due to the outbreak of the global pandemic Covid-19, nobody knew that this lockdown would bring such massive hardships for almost everyone, personally and professionally. While nearly every household is struggling to maintain their daily chores and needs, virtually every line of profession is in combat for its existence. May it be any profession, government, public, agriculture, education, or businesses; every sector is on the brink of falling into a massive financial catastrophe. Similar is the case with the legal sector where the lawyers and advocates have been struggling to make ends meet.
A total of 81% of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people have had their companies and offices shut down because of the public health emergency caused by the outbreak of the Covid-19 this year. There will be sectors, companies, and workers that may benefit from this near-tragedy. Unfortunately, we will also witness industries that will be severely harmed. People in these areas will lose their jobs and have extreme difficulties finding new ones. One of the many sectors that have been severely hit by the pandemic is that of the legal practitioners because of the closing of physical hearings in the courts.
From the start of the lockdown, several amendments have been made in the way cases are heard. Now, all the hearings are conducted via video conferencing on Zoom or Webinar. This has led to lawyers having no other choice than going for other small jobs to continue earning their bread and butter for their families or even end up committing suicide. This makes us ask an urgent question: do lawyers in India have to struggle their way through the financial crisis like India’s farmers?
The Bar Council of India (BCI), the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (S.C.A.O.R.A.), and the Gujarat High Court Advocates Association (G.H.C.A.A.) have urged chief justices of H.C.s and the S.C. to resume physical hearings and reopening of courts.
The regulations and restraints of lockdown due to the pandemic have affected the legal department in a very severe manner. Many lawyers are striving to make out a living as courts have adopted a new practice of having virtual trials of only urgent and critical matters through video-conferencing. This has resulted in an amplifying dependency of cases to an overwhelmed higher judiciary.
The catastrophe made Senior Advocate Yatin Oza resign from Gujarat High Court, even though he reversed the resignation when the members of the Bar convinced him to stay.
He mentioned an incident from Gujarat to reinforce his argument about the financial struggles being faced by lawyers due to the rampant lockdown. He highlighted that when he ordered food from a food delivery platform, the delivery person from Swiggy turned out to be a lawyer who used to practice in the Gujarat High Court. A lot of other lawyers had to go down to selling vegetables on streets, being salespeople in small shops, delivering goods which have led down to mass hysteria in the sector.
It is mentioned in the referendum that almost above 64% of the respondents were in favor of the resurgence of the physical trials of cases inside the courts. Meanwhile, the higher officials of the G.H.C.A.A. had a contradict
The vice-president and joint secretary of G.H.C.A.A. were at odds with the members of the managing committee. They requested the chief justice to persist with the ongoing video-conferencing facility, but the point to be highlighted is that there has been a drastic reduction in the cases heard by courts, including the S.C. since the video-conferencing facility was introduced in end-March because of the nationwide lockdown restrictions.
For instance, the apex court heard only 835 cases between the 23rd of March and May. While on a typical working day, S.C. hears around 800 cases. The H.C.s, too, are grappling with a growing pendency of cases. While people are waiting for justice for at least a decade, the Gujarat H.C. hears only five types of cases through the video-conferencing facility. Many advocates are waiting for weeks to get their cases listed, and the pendency of cases is running into lakhs.