BVDU, New Law College, Pune
COVID-19 has given rise to unimaginable damage and distress. It has turned the world upside down with minimal human contiguity, unemployment and heightened domestic disaccord. There is hardly any dimension of human life, which has been left untouched by this pandemic. It has brought about anomic circumstances striking our daily routines. This pandemic is likely to throw out the Indian politics and legal profession into ineffable clutter and extraordinary challenges. Many nations all around the world, wilfully suspended political rights such as the right to move, right to assemble and to attend religious services to prevent the spread of human to human transmission of this virus.
Impact on Political Environment:
There is an accord that the pandemic will have a detrimental impact on the global political structure. The COVID-19pandemic has affected the political systems of several countries, giving rise to the suspension of legislative and judicial activities, isolation of different politicians, postponing of elections due to fright of spreading the virus. The effect on various national politics in different parts of the world can be seen as at least 84 countries have proclaimed a state of emergency with regards to the pandemic, leading to fear about the abuse of power.
We had seen in previous epidemics, such as H1N1 in the year of 2009, when a public health emergency was politicised due to which the public became less likely to trust the government for providing the authentic information which created confusion in the minds of people. There are chances that the same may happen during this pandemic.
Expansion of state power
In the current situation, the pandemic has resulted in the expansion of the state and the centralisation of power. Both these trends had been seen in India over the past few years, but the pandemic is likely to spotlight them. More notably, in the near future, we are likely to experience a much-expanded role of the state and state-owned enterprises.
Impact on Advocacy and Legal Profession:
This pandemic has impacted not only the potency and effectiveness of the Bar and Benches but independent law professionals, in-house counsels, law students and junior advocates having no chamber support, small or medium-size law firms, law books publishers and distributors, law book editors, steno-typists, food vendors in and around court premises, stationery and stamp vendors and many such notable persons closely linked with the legal profession. This is a period when our legal system and legal practise techniques will be put to the test. Those legal professional shaving good command over management, knowledge and excellent communication skills will be surpassing the rest in this pandemic.
The most affected area of legal practice is: LITIGATION
We all know that in the litigation process, the witnesses, judges, lawyers and court staffs are needed to be physically present in the court and because of the virus spread; the clients are not able to take the assistance of the lawyers. Because of which, hearings are postponed whereas the courts used an alternative method that is Online Hearing of the cases which aimed at reducing in-person interactions and restricting public gatherings. The Judiciary (from the Supreme Court of India to the lowest court in the pyramid) has unanimously manifested that they would only attend extremely urgent cases through video conferencing or E-court system. Some advocates are the sole bread earners of their families, who depend upon daily appearances as their primary source of income and some are oblivious about the usage of technology which leaves both the strata of advocates with no work. They are facing a real crisis to survive and sustain their families. Many on-going debates are getting highlighted on the trend of virtual and e-court system.
On the one hand- lack of individual e- knowledge, skill and proficiency and on the other hand - the cost, time and litigation administration efficiency are being argued vigorously by both the sides. Bars, in general, are of a point of view that the virtual or e-court system may damper the workability, privacy and liberty in operation and client management. As discussed above, only urgent matters are being taken up. The court officials will decide the urgency of the matter. In this manner, only a few cases are being listed for appearance, which is approximately less than 10% as compared to an earlier regular listing of the cases before the pandemic. This will also lead to an uncontrolled multiplication of pre- notable pending cases yet to be dealt with. It can be rightly said that this pandemic has halted the whole legal system in the country.
Impact on the law firms
Law firms have also been gravely affected. Many partners have either chosen to repudiate salaries this financial year or concur to take significant pay cuts. Many also lost their jobs at the firm.
These are truly extraordinary times, which will need parliamentary democracies, in particular, to think about how and when we link the relationship between the executive and legislature. It is also needed that essential information must be credibly communicated to the public, without politicising the message.
Government of the country must do the necessary which includes expanding transparency, imposing control measures and suitable curtailments, scheming suitable prioritisation recommendations and making use of effectual technologies. This pandemic has significant negative impacts on our society. However, it also provides an opportunity in the hands of law firms to adopt new practices like work from home, e-meetings and dexterous working system which will help them to cope up with this pandemic and will also prepare them from such pandemics in future, if any.
Thus the impact of COVID-19 on the political and legal environment cannot be underestimated or overestimated as it comes with some of the positive aspects as well. However, lawyers conceded that the situation in regards to the political and legal system would improve only when the pandemic gets over, and the courts start functioning normally.
Disclaimer: Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author, and not Law Colloquy.