The Delhi High Court Thursday asked the Centre and Delhi government whether legal aid lawyers and judicial officers in the 18-44 age bracket, working to implement Supreme Court orders to decongest prisons, can walk-in for vaccination shots at the centres set up in district courts, saying ”you cannot send someone to war without a gun." Justice Navin Chawla said legal aid lawyers and judicial officers were working to ensure that the apex court’s directions are implemented and need to be protected against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court was hearing a plea by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), represented by advocate Ajay Verma, seeking directions to the Centre and Delhi government to urgently vaccinate judicial officers and legal aid lawyers at the vaccination centres set up in district courts. The central government told the court that at present there is no separate classification of lawyers as frontline workers for priority in vaccination and said that the issue of vaccinating the legal aid lawyers was a pan-India concern. Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma also told the court that there was a gestation period of more than a month between the first and second shot of vaccination and during this period the legal aid lawyers would be exposed to the risk of COVID-19 infection.
To this, the court said that while what the ASG said was true, however, it would provide some ”solace” to these lawyers if they get the first shot on priority basis. ”We should at least give them what we can,” the court said.
Delhi government standing counsel Santosh K Tripathi told the court that lawyers and judicial officers of 45 years or above can walk-in for vaccination at the centres in the district courts, but that was not the case with regard to the 18-44 age group. He said that the Delhi government does not have the discretion to allow walk-in of the 18-44 age group and a decision regarding that has to be taken by the Centre.
During the hearing, the court was told that a well known law firm was carrying out a drive to vaccinate its lawyers. On this, the court asked the Centre to find out how the law firm was able to do that if the vaccination was being carried out as per a national policy.
The court said the intention should not be to stop what the firm was doing, but to find out how they were doing it so that the same can be applied to the instant case. DSLSA, meanwhile, submitted to the Centre and Delhi government a truncated list of its empaneled lawyers for the purposes of vaccination.
The court on Tuesday, May 11, had asked the DSLSA to prepare a list of the legal aid lawyers and judicial officers who would be in need of the vaccination, so that the same can be shared with the Centre and Delhi government for their consideration. On the last date, the court had also observed that legal aid lawyers, who go to jails to meet the prisoners and get their consent for moving bail applications, and the judicial officers hearing such matters are a small subclass which is easily differentiable.
It had said that if these lawyers decide to stay at home so as not to risk their lives, ”then who will implement the orders of the Supreme Court to decongest jails?” DSLSA in its plea has contended that its legal aid lawyers have ”selflessly devoted themselves to the speedy and effective justice delivery mechanism even during the present grave situation” and therefore, they have been ”wrongfully and discriminatingly excluded from the list of frontline workers” and hence, deprived of priority vaccination. It has contended that already a number of deaths of lawyers, judicial officers and court staff have occurred due to the COVID-19 infection.