A group of senior lawyers have written to Chief Justice Dipankar Datta urging him to consider permitting the Bombay High Court to function with full strength and for increased hours, albeit with reasonable safety precautions and social distancing measures.
The two letters, written on Monday by lawyers representing the appellate and original side of the Bar, have also been addressed to the four other senior most judges of Bombay HC.
The letters say since it is unlikely that COVID-19 will be eradicated in the near future, eventually one will have to accept the "new normal" and resume life with necessary restrictions.
Therefore, keeping in mind that each day under the lockdown adds to the already enormous pile of pending cases, plight of litigants, and also that of lawyers who have not been able to get enough work, it would be prudent for the High Court to get back to normalcy, the lawyers said.
"We are now in the fourth phase of the lockdown. And even when this lockdown ends, it is not clear what will the pandemic situation be. We know measures like social distancing will have to become a norm. So why not start getting back to normal with all precautions," said senior counsel Anil Sakhre, one of the authors of the letter written by the Appellate side.
"HC has been working with limited strength for two months now. Even though urgent cases are being heard, many older, important cases remain stuck. Thousands of lawyers across the state have been struggling to get work. We have to consider all issues, such as pendency, plight of litigants and the economic factor for advocates," Sakhre said.
"We can't let the system collapse," he said. Since the nationwide lockdown in force since March 25, Bombay HC has been working for two hours every few days a week, and with limited strength. Most cases are heard via video conference, though some lawyers do visit the court for orders. The lower courts too have been hearing only urgent matters.
The lawyers suggested a slew of precautions that can be taken in future for "public safety and dispensation of justice" once the court resumes regular work.
These include listing a fixed number of cases with each bench and having designated time slots for hearing every case.
The lawyers have also suggested regulating entry to the court by handing out e-passes for scheduled time slots to lawyers and litigants depending on when their cases are being heard, and evolving a system where fresh cases are listed for hearing promptly based on the urgency.
Advocate Sakhre said lawyers will also be writing to the Maharashtra government to arrange for transportation for court staff, including those who live outside the municipal region of Mumbai, to enable them to attend work since the suburban train network remains suspended.
The lawyers also suggested digitising court records, allotting fixed time for filing of submissions in each case, and dividing cases in categories such as those that can be heard via videoconferencing, and those which necessarily require a physical hearing.
Others who have written the letters include advocates Vijay Thorat, Prasad Dakhephalkar, Vineet Naik, AV Anturkar, Prasad Dani, Atul Damle, Vishwajeet Sawant, Janak Dwarkadas, Iqbal Chagla, NH Seervai, Darius Khambata, and Fredun D'Vitre.