India

‘Dire situation’: SC takes up issue of financial aid for lawyers

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on lives of citizens, especially lawyers, as it took suo moto cognizance of the issue of financial assistance to lawyers amid the ongoing pandemic, which has forced the closure of courts.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian issued notice on the plea filed by Bar Council of India (BCI) citing difficult financial situation for lawyers due to closure of courts.

The bench, also issuing notice to Registrar Generals of all the High Courts, said that an unprecedented crisis needs an unprecedented solution. It added that it is conscious of the fact that the legal fraternity is bound by rules, which restrict their source of income only to the profession and lawyers are not entitled to earn a livelihood by any other means.

“Closure of courts has impacted a sizable portion of the legal profession and thus affected livelihood and income. Needless to say, this is a dire situation,” said the bench.

Noting the lawyers’ bodies demand for re-opening of courts during the Covid-19 pandemic, it said: “This demand is difficult as it jeopardises the health of all those who attend court in congregation including judges and lawyers… medical advice is to not start resumption of court immediately. Nonetheless, it is not possible to ignore the livelihood of lawyers.”

The top court said it is issuing notice to all bar associations across India to show cause why a fund for relief for deserving and eligible advocates should not be set up, and further invite donation from its own members. “We issue notice to the Bar Council of India and the Centre in our suo motu case. Notice also to the Registrar General of each High Court,” said the bench. The notice is returnable in two weeks.

The BCI has moved a plea, under the Constitution’s Article 32, in the Supreme Court for direction to the Centre, states and Union Territories to arrange financial assistance, by way of interest-free loan of up to Rs 3 lakh each to advocates enrolled with the respective Bar Council. This loan, it said, should be repayable in reasonable monthly installments at least 12 months after normal court functioning commences. The BCI has estimated that almost about 25 to 30 per cent of the 16 lakh advocates enrolled with different state bar councils would be in need of immediate financial help.

–IANS

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