Coronavirus: SC orders closure of lawyers' chambers

Coronavirus: Supreme Court orders closure of lawyers' chambers, only one court to function virtually

Taking major safety steps in view of coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court Monday decided to seal the chambers of lawyers in and around its premises and said that only one court would hear "extremely urgent matters" through virtual means.

The top court said it is also cancelling the proximity entry cards of the lawyers and other staff members from Monday onwards, so that no one is allowed inside the premises.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices L N Rao and Surya Kant said that only senior advocate Dushyant Dave, president of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) can authorise a person to enter the premises for a very urgent reason.

"We don't want any congregation of lawyers in the premise. One court will be sitting once a week to take up extremely urgent matters that too through virtual means. We will be sharing video link with the lawyers whose case is listed and they can even argue from their chambers or from their home," the bench said.

The bench said that court will be invoking its plenary powers under Article 142 to direct extending indefinitely the limitation period for filing appeals against orders of High Courts or any tribunal in apex court, so as not to render them time-barred because of the pandemic, referred to as COVID-19.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the limitations of appeals which are about to expire in coming four-six weeks, should be deemed to have been extended.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, who was appearing in a matter, said that video-conferencing also requires that lawyers gather at one place, which is a serious concern.

"We will devise a mechanism in which an identity of lawyers will be created and they can argue even sitting in their chambers or from their home," the bench said, adding that Justice D Y Chandrachud, who is the chairman of e-committee of the apex court will be looking into devising the modalities.

Dave said it would be appropriate if the court declare the period as a vacation as several litigants are pressurising the lawyers to appear for them.

"The problem is what do we call it in law...we can call it shut down or vacation. If we declare it as a vacation, then the court will have to function in the month of June to make up for working days. But whatever it is, we are very sure that their will be no congregation. You (Dave) please ask lawyers to close their chambers by tomorrow 5 PM after which it will be sealed. No sanitation staff should be allowed," the bench said.

The CJI said that it would be passing an administrative order by Monday evening.

It said that since no lawyers is expected to go abroad at the juncture, the filing of petition could be done at any time and the top court would be reviewing the situation once at the end of every week.

Dave said that everyone is scared to come to the premises to file petitions and it would be appropriate if the court declare it as a vacation for four weeks.

"We have 6,000 licences for video app. Will give you a particular video link and you can address us from home or chamber. We will take a decision today," the bench said.

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Dave added that judges also not need to take care and don't need to come to courts and can hear the matter from their homes.

"Doctors at Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) facility are taking extensive care of all of us but we need to take precaution," the bench said.

The chief justice said he would take a call on a possible shut down or to advance the summer vacations, as demanded by the lawyers' organisations.

The issue of shutting down the apex court's functioning was raised by the SCBA president and the members of the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

On March 21, both the Supreme Court lawyers bodies — SCBA and SCAORA — have recommended to the Chief Justice S A Bobde to prepone the summer vacation in the top court by declaring holidays for two to four weeks in view of the coronavirus pandemic. 

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