SC orders reopening of lawyers' chambers in premises on odd-even basis

New Delhi, May 22 (PTI) Almost two months after the lawyers' chambers were locked due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court has come out with a good news for advocates saying now they can access their offices in the premises from 10 AM to 4 PM on alternate week days based on the odd-even scheme.

The apex court has been hearing only urgent cases through video-conferencing during the lockdown from March 25 and had ordered sealing of lawyers' chambers inside the premises on the evening of March 24.

The top court, after taking note of recent representations of lawyers' bodies, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA), on Thursday decided to come out with fresh guidelines on entry of persons into Lawyers' Chamber Blocks here.  “To avoid over-crowding inside the Lawyers Chamber Blocks, in terms of the prescribed social-distancing norms, the SCBA and SCAORA may jointly prepare and circulate plan detailing the 'Odd-Even' Chamber Numbers of every Block, which would alternately open on Weekdays (Monday to Saturday) indicating therein the maximum number of persons who may access any Chamber at any point of time,” the circular said.

“The Lawyers Chamber Blocks would follow the timings 10 AM to 4 PM (Monday to Friday, except holidays) and 10 AM to 2 PM (Saturday, except holidays), followed by sanitisation of the Blocks; on Sundays and holidays, the Blocks will remain closed for deep cleaning and sanitization,” the apex court said.

Making wearing of masks mandatory for all entrants, the apex court said only the member lawyers and their staff can be allowed entry into the chambers blocks on “production of proximity card or letter of authority” and they will have to undergo thermal-screening.

The circular asked the SCBA and SCAORA to arrange for the thermal screening and filling up of self-declaration forms by all the entrants and made clear that the entrants who are found symptomatic during the thermal screening shall be denied entry into the Blocks.

“The Supreme Court shall refuse entry into any Block on non-compliance of the condition,” the circular said, adding that it would be mandatory to use “stairs while coming downstairs” from lawyers' chambers.

There will be a “single-entry point” to every chambers' block fitted with hand-sanitizer machine provided by the apex court registry and manned by the SCBA or SCAORA authorised personnel, it said.

“The SCBA/SCAORA may inform the Members (lawyers) and their staff that operation of air-conditioning machines in chambers may raise health-concerns in the prevalent pandemic-situation,” it said.

Recently, the apex court decided to postpone its summer vacation by five weeks and declared that it would remain functional from May 18 to June 19.

The top court said that it will hear all cases via video and audio links between May 18 and June 19 and its ''1881'' helpline to assist advocates and litigants in e-filing and virtual hearing would remain functional from 10 AM to 5 PM under supervision of senior officers during the week. PTI SJK ABA MNL RKS RKS RKS