Disrespect vs. Compulsion: Lawyers attending VC hearings from cars

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Recently the Madras High Court noted that a lawyer appeared for a virtual hearing from a car and observed that such casual behavior amounts to disrespect of the Court. A similar observation has been made by other Courts in the country as well.
  • The Single Bench of Justice SM Subramanian also observed that another person was seated in the backseat of the car during the hearing.
  • It was noted by the Court that appearing in the hearing in such a manner is against the Video Conferencing Rules laid down by the High Court. The rules state that remote users and the coordinator shall ensure that they are in a quiet location with a sufficient internet connection. The rules further state that any unwarranted disturbance may render the proceedings non-est.
  • It has been argued that the observation of the Court did not consider the situation of the advocates while providing such a statement.

INTRODUCTION

Most lawyers have their practice not only in the High Court but in the trial courts as well. This is especially true for first-generation lawyers who cannot afford to confine their practice to only one court.

Lawyers and even Judges were not prepared for virtual court sessions. This was the first time they had to think about from where they would present their case in front of the judges. Therefore, not everyone in their financial capacity was able to create a neutral background to attend the court sessions.

But these circumstances have not been taken into account by various High Courts which did not only slam the advocates for their ‘unprofessional behavior’ but also imposed a fine on them.

In some cases there are genuine issues, but in some cases the advocates really need to ensure the decorum of the Court, even if the hearing is taking place virtually.

SIMILAR OBSERVATIONS BY OTHER COURTS

Recently, the Courts have termed the behavior of advocates in virtual conferencing as horrid and shocking. They were seen eating, walking and even running up and down the stairs during the hearing.

The Madras High Court after noting that the conduct of the advocate was disrespectful of the Court ordered the counsel for the petitioner to appear in person before the Court. The physical hearing will start on fourth February.

The Delhi High Court also observed that advocates are attending to the matter while they are on roads, and even sitting in parks. On this, the Court commented that this conduct is shocking as it makes the proceedings of court difficult to proceed.

Advocate Vishal Gori was imposed with a fine of Rs.10,000 by the Presiding Officer DRT-I Ahmedabad, Vinay Goel. The fine was imposed because the advocate was attending the hearing while sitting in a car.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi of Karnataka High Court slammed an advocate because he was attending the video conferencing while sitting in his car. The Bench observed that the members of the bar shall follow the minimum decorum of the court even if the hearing is taking place virtually.

A bail plea was adjourned by the Rajasthan High Court because the counsel was inappropriately dressed during the hearing.

The Supreme Court also accepted the apology of an advocate who was attending the video conferencing session in an inappropriate attire. The counsel was wearing a t-shirt. In the case of Sudarshan TV, an advocate appeared in the hearing without wearing a shirt.

The Orissa High Court also criticized the conduct of lawyers who were presenting their case inside vehicles, gardens, or while eating. The Bar Council of India was requested to lay out or define certain instructions to lawyers so that the minimum decorum of the Court is maintained.

Calcutta High Court initiated suo moto contempt action against an advocate as he had posted a screenshot of the virtual court hearing on LinkedIn. While doing so the Court observed that taking a screenshot of the VC proceedings is similar to clicking a photograph of an actual court proceeding.

The Court dropped the contempt proceedings after giving a warning to the lawyer.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Even though virtual courts will improve the productivity of lawyers as they will not have to visit to courts for their sessions, the challenge that almost 50% of lawyers do not have access to laptop or internet connection persists.

It is also clear that this was the first time lawyers had to show their homes during the Court was in session. This is because not every lawyer can afford a law chamber or a small place where they can argue their case. This made the income and even gender divide more apparent.

The Courts in some cases did not consider the fact that the lawyers were appearing in the sessions virtually while sitting in a car not out of disrespect, but out of compulsion.

There have been suggestions that virtual courts should be continued even after the pandemic is over. However, if we take into account the aforementioned facts, then implementing this suggestion seems difficult during the time.

There is not only a need for more infrastructure, but also a need for training. It is evident that even the judges have faced challenges hearing the matter from a virtual setting. Thus, to make virtual courts as a foreseeable future, it is important that the judiciary system in India should make attempts to make the mechanism more user friendly.

 

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Mansi Aggarwal Online
on 22 February 2021
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