A plea seeking to defer commencement of physical hearings by all judges from March 15 till the time all the advocates are vaccinated against COVID-19 infection was on Thursday referred by a judge of the Delhi High Court for hearing before the bench which is already dealing with the coronavirus issue.
Justice Prathiba M Singh said since the issue is pending before a division bench headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi, this petition ought to be placed before the same bench, subject to the orders of the Chief Justice. A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, which is looking into the issue of prioritising COVID-19 vaccination of members of legal fraternity, passed various directions earlier in the day and asked the Centre, Delhi government, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech to respond to it.
Justice Singh, while transferring the plea to the division bench, also noted that the petition has challenged the full court's decision on physical opening of courts and it is deemed appropriate to send it to the concerned roster bench. The high court was hearing the petition by lawyer Manashwy Jha seeking that the decision to commence physical hearings by all judges from March 15 be deferred till the time all the advocates are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Jha, in his plea, has also sought that either the lawyers and their staff be vaccinated by treating them at par with frontline health workers or in the alternative to defer the implementation of the February 20 office order till the time all the advocates and their staff are vaccinated. Another petition relating to hybrid hearings in district courts was also sent to the division bench. During the hearing, Delhi High Court Bar Association President Mohit Mathur and Secretary Abhijat submitted that an overwhelming majority of its members have supported the resumption of physical hearings and only a miniscule number of 500 members are trying to stall the process.
They said the bar association was not against the hybrid hearings on a case-to-case basis given the availability of technology and infrastructure to support it. Various advocates representing the petitioner raised objections and opposed the resumption of physical hearings and said that without medical advice, courts should not be opened.
The petitioner has claimed that the danger of COVID-19 was "far from over" as cases in Delhi may have reduced considerably, but in the states of Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Kerala the pandemic numbers were still rising and there was every likelihood that the impact of the same might be felt in the national capital soon due to lack of restrictions in the movement of people.