Video conference hearings, lawyers hit badly during coronavirus lockdown

They demand opening of physical courts and hearings in open courts
For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)
For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)

CHENNAI: The lockdown has affected the livelihood of many, including lawyers. With every case being heard through video conference, income has dwindled and several lawyers, who had been working as juniors, have reportedly gone to their native place. Demanding the opening of physical courts and open court hearings, lawyers have said arrangements should be made to ensure social distance and other rules during the proceedings.

According to data from the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, there are over 1.3 lakh advocates across the State. The council received 14,000 applications seeking assistance last month alone, of which 12,000 were selected. Each advocate was provided a sum of  Rs 4,000, council members said.

A junior lawyer, on condition of anonymity, said, “On an average, we were making between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 every month, depending on the type of cases and the work our seniors used to give. However, several lawyers like me have gone to their native places to do odd jobs.”

Typists, stenographers, filing and research assistants engaged by senior lawyers have also lost income since the lockdown began. Senthil Kumar, an advocate at Madras High Court, has moved to his native village in Thanjavur with his family and is yet to return.  “I expected the courts to reopen after the Centre announced the unlock 1.0. However, all lawyers like me are disappointed over continuing of virtual courts,” he told Express over phone.

Advocates also said there might be a significant increase in the number of pending cases by the year end. The Madras High Court, which was earlier hearing over 350 to 400 bail applications, is now hearing only 30 to 40 owing to restricted functioning and limited staff.

The Madras High Court had, through a notification, permitted open court hearings only in nine districts - Dharmapuri, The Nilgiris, Krishnagiri, Tiruvarur, Theni, Ramanathapuram, Nagapattinam, Karur and Sivaganga - with a maximum of five lawyers at each court hall at a time.

Bar council chairman PS Amalraj, during a meeting with members, said he had sent a detailed representation to the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court seeking the opening of physical courts.

“Almost 98 per cent of the advocates are not comfortable with virtual court hearings. Advocates are unable to present their cases effectively and this is acting as a major impediment,” Amalraj said in his representation. In a matter involving several parties and advocates, not all the lawyers are given a chance to speak and, sometimes, their mikes are put on mute, he added.

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