Mumbai, December 1: Fearing that they would end up catching Covid, lawyers in Maharashtra have reached out to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court to relook at its decision of “physical hearing.”

Beginning Tuesday the Bombay High Court would only conduct physical hearing and no virtual hearing of cases would be carried out. The Bombay Bar Association has written a letter to the Chief Justice of Maharashtra and asked that the High Court at least postpones the physical hearing rule till end of December, The Economic Times reported.

Bombay Bar Association (“BBA”) has received feedback and responses from a large number of its members expressing grave concern on the making of physical appearances mandatory in so many courts in the given circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter sent to the chief justice read.

The Bombay High Court on Friday had said that it would have physical hearings on experimental basis. The court said that video conferencing would also continue through December. BBA wants the Chief Justice to modify the office order released by the High Court on Friday.

The rule has left many senior councils worried that they would catch infection if they visit the court premise. The rules require that only two lawyers who are arguing would enter the court premises. Many senior lawyers told ET that there is still a chance that they could expose themselves to infection while they are standing outside the courtroom waiting for their case to be heard.

The letter “requested that initially, there may be an addition of 3 Courts taking up physical matters. The kind of matters which may be taken up by the Courts may be the matters which do not entail too many lawyers attending the Court, such as Courts hearing final hearing of Single Judge Writ Petitions under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution, final hearing of Appeals from Order, final hearing of first and second appeals.

Many senior lawyers that were pushing for getting hearing date at the earliest, now want to postpone their hearing to as late as possible.

“In recent weeks and months, the High Courts of Karnataka, Chennai, Patna, Allahabad, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, and others, have reopened and been forced to shut down again due to the detection of positive cases,” the letter said.

“Going ahead even when Covid pandemic is over virtual hearing could become a norm globally. Indian judicial system could adapt to this reality and virtual hearing could continue,” a senior government council told ET. He said that he had a hearing on Tuesday but have postponed it as he “doesn’t wish to take the risk.”

The BBA letter said that “in the alternative, a hybrid system of physical and virtual Courts (as is being operated in the Court of the Hon’ble Chief Justice) be provided in the newly added physical courts as per the office order dated 27 November 2020, giving an option to those lawyers who do not seek to attend the court physically to make an appearance virtually.

Till such time as technical arrangement for such hybrid hearing can be made, since the facility for video conferencing already exists and has been successfully used for many months, that may be continued till at least 31 December 2020, after which it may be reassessed/reconsidered.

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