The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the Maharashtra government and the Railways to let lawyers travel by local trains in Mumbai on an "experimental basis" from September 18 till October 7 to attend physical hearings of cases in the high court.
The Western Railway and the Central Railway are running selected suburban train services only for essential services, as identified by the state government, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni said lawyers who have cases to attend must write to the high court registrar.
The registrar will confirm the lawyer's claim and issue a certificate, based on which the Central Railway and the Western Railway will issue a pass or ticket to the lawyer just for that particular day.
The bench also cautioned lawyers against misusing the travel certificate and said in the event of misuse, it would be open for the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa to take action against the lawyers concerned.
"Let this system run from September 18 till October 7 on an experimental basis. We are sensitive to the needs of lawyers. If this works, we will think about lower courts," the bench said.
The court was hearing a bunch of petitions seeking that lawyers be permitted to use the suburban train network in the city to reach courts.
Its directions came after the state and the Union government submitted that they were open to letting lawyers use the trains as long as it was just for one day to attend cases in which they compulsorily needed to make a physical appearance.
The bench said if the above system worked successfully, it will think about extending similar relief to lawyers of trial courts as well.
Currently, only a few local trains are operational.
These have limited stops and can be used only by those in essential services.
The lawyers earlier approached the high court in April after the coronavirus-induced lockdown came into force in March this year.
Earlier this month, the lawyers reiterated that they be permitted to use the trains since the HC resumed partial physical hearings, and lower courts never completely stopped physical hearings even during the lockdown.
The high court was conducting hearings through video- conferencing since the lockdown came into force.
However, it began physical hearings in criminal appeal cases in four court rooms from August 31.