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Thursday, October 21, 2021

‘Question of vacancies in HC should be addressed soon, need for modern building commensurate with prestige’

Senior Advocate Nitin Thakker, president of the Bombay Bar Association (BBA), the oldest association of lawyers practising in the Bombay High Court, speaks to Omkar Gokhale about virtual court hearings during the pandemic

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: October 11, 2021 5:57:54 pm
Nitin Thakker (File)

Senior Advocate Nitin Thakker, president of the Bombay Bar Association (BBA), the oldest association of lawyers practising in the Bombay High Court, speaks to Omkar Gokhale about virtual court hearings during the pandemic, vacancy of judges in HC, security of court premises and demand for new HC building.

The High Court and other judicial fora have been functioning in virtual or hybrid mode for over a year and a half. How effective and challenging has it been?

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging period for people from all walks of life and the entire judiciary is not left behind. We suffered challenges and courts overcame them by introducing fully virtual courts in the beginning. It was very effective, at least in all urgent matters, where people sought reliefs, orders were passed and protections were given and many matters were disposed of.

What was the impact of the pandemic on lawyers practising across courts in the state?

Lawyers, who had facilities were able to adapt and there were several junior lawyers, who could not do so for want of facilities, including lack of availability of computers and technology, etc. Many lawyers had to abandon their practice and leave the city and went back to their villages to do alternative jobs or farming. The BBA gave financial aid to nearly 100 advocates. Sooner or later, we will be reverting to fully physical courts with a choice to parties to apply for a virtual hearing, which will be at the discretion of the court.

Do you think the security overhaul across courts in Maharashtra, especially after Rohini Court, Delhi shootout incident is required?

The security of courts is essential and since Ajmal Kasab’s matter had come up before High Court, the high security has become a permanent feature of the HC building, with a more systematic and organised approach with x-ray screening machines etc. After the Rohini Court incident last month, Chief Justice Dipankar Datta ordered a complete review of the security system and within two days thereafter, the Mumbai Police conducted a security audit of all courts in Mumbai and the recommendations of the department will be enforced.

The CJ has also constituted a committee consisting of senior Judges, high-level police officers, representatives of BMC etc to review the security in courts. Apart from the Rohini court shootout, a judge in Jharkhand was killed this year. About 10 years ago, there was an incident in Mumbai too. These are stray incidents where powerful gangs are involved and by and large there are no incidents whereby the security of lawyers and judges has been threatened at least at the HC level.

What do you think about the vacancies in Bombay HC, which is currently running with 59 judges, while it has a sanctioned strength of 94?

Bombay HC is the premier High Court of the country and Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. The litigation here is complex, including matters having high stakes involved. However, today, due to a lack of strength, a judge taking up commercial matters has to deal with several other matters too and each judge is performing the functions of six to seven judges. While it is commendable of the judges, who are overburdened and overexerting themselves to deliver justice, we hope and trust that the Central government, Supreme Court collegium and HC Chief Justice collectively address the question of vacancies in Bombay High Court as early as possible. More vacancies are going to arise next year as nearly 10-12 judges will be retiring in 2022.

The HC conveyed to the state government about the space crunch in its existing premises in

Mumbai and the requirement of additional space for the construction of an integrated court complex on Mumbai Port Trust land. Is expansion required and how can it be done?

There is no doubt that the Bombay High Court needs a new building. The present building was constructed to accommodate five to seven courts – in which at present there are 42-43 judges. We need a fully modern high court building and I believe HCs all over the country have got new buildings and even the Supreme Court has got an additional complex. It is the duty of the Central government and the state government not to give step-motherly treatment when it comes to providing infrastructure for the judiciary. I strongly urge them to put their heads together and see to it that Bombay HC gets land and a building thereon commensurate with its prestige. The Port Trust land has become a non-starter as an exorbitant demand was made by the Central government from the state government for giving away that land.

We have three Central government buildings in front of the present HC building, including the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) and MTNL Building and half of them are empty. They need to be refurbished and reconstructed so the present building can also remain and the new buildings are just across. The Central government is giving it on lease and license to make money, instead if these buildings are given to HC, and reconstructed, there may be no need to find a place anywhere else. The hold of these buildings can be transferred from the Ministry of Telecommunications to the Ministry of law and Justice and given to the HC. If that is done, it could be one of the solutions.

Otherwise, we need at least 50 acres of land, where the idea is to have all judicial and Central government tribunals in the same compound like a judicial complex in the city. There is a land in Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) under contemplation for HC. We do not know when it will be vacated and when it will be handed over. We are hopeful that the steps are taken as soon as possible so that the Bombay HC gets land and a building commensurate with its prestige.

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