Published on: September 18, 2022 at 15:53 IST
The Madhya Pradesh High Court objected to a request made to the Supreme Court [All India Association of Jurists vs. Uttarakhand High Court & Ors.] that would have made virtual hearing a fundamental right.
The All India Jurists Association, a group representing more than 5,000 lawyers nationwide, and journalist Sparsh Upadhyay filed a petition asking the court to rule that the right to participate in court proceedings via virtual courts via video conference is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) and (g) of the Constitution.
The petition was being heard by the bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court argued against the petitioners’ requests, submitting its opposition.
“The existence of infrastructure ensures that there would be continuing access to justice to litigants in future should the need so arise.”
“Mere existence of infrastructure does not vest an automatic right on the advocates to claim that they are entitled to appear through virtual mode”,
The petitioner-association claimed that the High Courts of Uttarakhand, Kerala, Bombay, and Madhya Pradesh did not offer joining links for virtual case attendance.
Their argument was that denying access to the option of conducting virtual hearings amounted to denying fundamental rights protected by Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
The argument made in the lawsuit, made by attorney Sriram Parakkat, was that under Article 19(1)(a) and (g) of the Constitution, every practitioner has a basic right to use virtual courts and conduct legal proceedings through video conferencing.
The petitioner has argued that such access cannot be denied or dispensed with on procedural grounds related to a lack of infrastructure or technology or an inconvenience to the courts in handling them.
It’s interesting to note that the petitioner association has also asked the Supreme Court’s E-Committee to be added as a party to the lawsuit.
Through another petition, the National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice asked the Supreme Court’s e-committee to order the High Courts not to stop offering video conferences and virtual court hearings. This petition was filed by attorney Mrigank Prabhakar.
However, the Madhya Pradesh High Court argued that even though virtual hearings were permitted during COVID-19, they cannot be utilized to replace the actual presence of attorneys.
Additionally, it noted that the Rs. 100 crores mentioned in the application are not totally received and used for video conferencing.
The High Court’s reply read,“The funds that were invested are provided by the State government and E-committee for overall upgradation of IT Infrastructure of the High Court and the District Judiciary in the State of Madhya Pradesh and the funds that were provided by the State Government and E-committee were not dedicated solely for video conferencing purposes,”
The High Court claimed that “none of the litigants have approached this Court alleging any denial of access to justice to them” and that all “petitions are filed by advocates practicing in various courts-seeking permission to appear in other courts through hybrid mode” in an effort to cast doubt on the location of the petitioner organisation.
This argument was reflected in the Central government’s response to the petition, which read:
“All the petitions are filed by advocates practicing in various courts-seeking permission to appear in other courts through hybrid mode.”
“It is submitted that such access to different courts virtually is nothing but convenience for advocates and cannot be termed as any legal right, let alone a fundamental right.”