Two lawyers have approached Nagpur Municipal Corporation Commissioner Tukaram Mundhe and Nagpur City Police Commissioner Dr BK Upadhyay requesting them to treat legal services as essential services during the lockdown. Through a letter, the lawyers have requested the two authorities to issue necessary instructions to the officials to not prevent lawyers from using their offices for their professional activities during lockdown.
The lawyers, Ashish Tarwani and Rahul Kishnani, in their letter to NMC Commissioner Mundhe and Nagpur Police Chief Dr Upadhyay, have stated that legal services are essential services and that even the courts are taking up urgent matters for hearing during the lockdown and therefore lawyers should be allowed to use their offices.
In their representation, the advocates wrote: “In connections with the matters and providing legal services to the public at large, we the lawyers, are required to go to our offices for studying, drafting, etc. Further, nowadays filing in the High Court and the Supreme Court is mainly online i.e one has to draft the petitions/applications/appeals etc., get them scanned and send to the designated emails of the High Court/Supreme Court and thereafter the hearing of the matters is also taken up via video conferencing for which we have made our entire set up in our office, which includes high speed internet connection and laptop/desktop.”
Citing an observation by The Supreme Court of India, Advocate Ashish Tarwani told Nation Next: “When the apex court has itself said that lawyers’ offices were exempted from the lockdown, why are we being stopped from working from our offices? Lawyers’ offices are not governed by shops and establishments act, and legal services cannot be tagged as commercial activities. When the courts are operational, why are they stopping us from working in our offices?”
Tarwani said that if their request was not paid heed to, they would take up the matter in the court. Senior advocate Anil Mardikar too citied the SC observation when we spoke to him.
Speaking about why legal services should be treated as essential services, senior advocate Anand Jaiswal told Nation Next: “Courts cannot function unless there are lawyers to go to the court and argue the matter. Now, a lawyer, unless he goes to his office to meet the client, cannot know whether the client’s matter is urgent or not. For every client, his/her matter is urgent. So, it is up to the lawyers to decide whether the said matter lies within the parameters, which the court has fixed for emergency hearings. For all these things, unless the lawyer’s office is open, he cannot function. The general public will not be able to protect themselves in legal matters unless the lawyers’ offices are operational.”
When Nation Next spoke to DCP Vikram Sali about the appeal by the lawyers to Dr Upadhyay, he said, “The powers to allow lawyers to operate from their offices rest with the NMC.”
When Nation Next reached out to Ram Joshi, Additional Municipal Commissioner, NMC, he said, “Courts, even though operational, are not working with full capacity. We certainly cannot give permission to offices of all the lawyers to open up. Either, we may seek a list of lawyers contesting emergency cases from the courts or we can request the government to form any regulations concerning the offices of lawyers in red zones.”
Contradicting Joshi on his statement, Advocate Jaiswal added, “It’s like saying that we will allow emergency services of doctors, we will allow patients to be treated in ICU but we won’t allow OPD to operate. Unless the OPD is operational, how is a person supposed to get examined and sent for treatment at the ICU? Unless a litigant goes to the lawyer’s office, his case cannot be prepared to be presented before the court.”
Senior Advocate Anand Parchure said, “Ours is a noble profession just like the doctors. If a person comes to us for legal help, how can we turn them away just because our offices are closed?”