How Has Coronavirus Impacted The Indian Legal System?
From memes to videos, from news links to social media statuses, from vigorous debates and discussions to social media forwards on relevant precautions, COVID-19 has been the singular topic of discussion and concern for people around the world. The virus, also termed as SARSnCov2, tends to directly attack Corona the respiratory systems of humans which exacerbates the fatality and serious nature of this disease. Nobody knows the origin of the virus; did it come from animals like bats or did it come from the mutation and interaction between two or more viruses? Nobody has the answer for sure.
Although Covid19 is not entirely fatal, what compounds the fear around it lies in the fact that it engages in human to human transmission. Because ‘community transmission’ of this virus bears the potential to virtually entail hundreds and thousands of people within its sweep and can wipe off masses, countries all around the world have resorted to shutdowns, either partially or like complete lockdowns. The impact of this lockdown on our routine lifestyle warrants no introduction. Rather, it has introduced us to a state of complete isolation and even set patterns of routine and work have been done away with. This article tries to focus upon and attempts to highlight the ramifications of the virus on one field in particular: the field of Law.
Why Law? One may ask. Well, for starters, in times like these, it is of paramount importance that countries everywhere do not delve into chaos. What makes us a civilized race as compared to other species on the planet is Law and Order. Irrespective of what model of governance a country identifies itself with, every citizen of this world, should and must have access to the legal system. In times like these, where policies are being formulated now and then, the working of courts and the legal framework are key to upholding the notion of “Justice for one and all”, especially to determine if these new guidelines or laws align with the legal framework of that respective place. Justice must not only be timely and effectively imparted but also must be easily accessible to everyone. That is, after all, the true purpose of Law.
The Coronavirus becomes a source of major concern, particularly because it transmits from human to human. The droplets, when touched or inhaled, will instantly take within its sweep the respective individual. What is even more frightening and appalling is that people might stay asymptomatic for days before symptoms of this disease begin to manifest. This aggravates the problem furthermore. It is only within the contours of logic and rationality to state that courts, tribunals and judicial offices are a major source of physical human interaction. This factor of physical contact makes the threat of ‘community transmission’ even more palpable. Today, courts all around the world have been shut. In many nations, work has been completely suspended and in others, like our own, courts have decided to entertain a limited number of cases which involve substantial urgency. In India, following the lockdown imposed by the Government, the Supreme Court, High Courts and the subordinate courts of all States have adopted measures to combat the spread of the pandemic and functioning very restrictively, dealing only with the most urgent of matters (like bails and interim reliefs).
In a revolutionary manner, most courts all across the country have decided to suspend all work and have closed down and have reduced the presence of people therein to a bare minimum. To make up for the time lost during the lockdown, many courts have unanimously resolved to cancel the upcoming summer vacations of the courts to cope up with the inevitable backlog and pendency of cases. The Supreme Court and various HC’s have employed technology to dispense justice.
Video conferencing has emerged as an effective tool to displace physical courts for the time being while maintaining the working of the justice delivery system. We have somehow moved to a technology-based ecosystem as an outcome of dealing with the virus. This has evoked an entire debate about the tenability and sustainability of virtual courts and the issues that face us to make it work. On one hand, the system of E-filing and Video conferencing is welcomed, preferably as it avoids people from coming in direct contact which helps to combat the spread of the virus and also because the step was much needed in light of saving paper and the go green initiative.
On the other hand, virtual courts and e-filing present us with many difficulties, including tackling bad internet and poor video quality, outdated and obsolete modes of communication technology, the population of India not being entirely Tech-savvy etc. Many people have shown their approval for this mode of litigation whereas some criticize it. On the grass-root level, may it be backward districts or villages or simply subordinate courts, there are still people who do not have either the technology or the technical know-how to adjust to this new system.
The repercussions of this problem on the field of contract law can also be felt by observing that, many parties to a contract, which were earlier finalized and were only pending official confirmation, are now retreating from performing their part of the contract by employing the virus outbreak as an excuse to extricate themselves from a deal. Contracts have been delayed and interrupted which has led to a huge supply chain disruption. Parties would now delve into renegotiations citing the outbreak to strike a better bargain.
The startup ecosystem has also been hit badly. This becomes substantiated by the fact that under practical impediments like low cash inflows and liquidity issues, investor sentiments are at an all-time low. Thus, investors are devising strategies to either renegotiate the concluded contracts or step out of them. This pandemic has discouraged the spirit of investors in risk-taking as more and more people are trying to play it safe in their investments. Liquidity has become a huge demoralizing factor in preventing investors from pooling in their funds into the startup ecosystem due to the lack of economic activity.
A major impact of the outbreak that can be seen in the field of law is the extension of deadlines and also in certain cases the extension of limitation periods. Period of limitation, in layman’s terms, refers to the legally permissible period in which a suit can be filed or a right may be enforced. It is the period to exercise one’s remedy that is prescribed by a statute or law. In wake of the outbreak where all routine work is disrupted, many courts have decided to understandably extend this period so that a right of an affected party does not suffer due to the imposition of this lockdown.
To abide by the law, on similar lines, the RBI has also issued a circular whereby they have extended the moratorium period by three months, thus offering the people who have availed any kind of a loan from banks to pay their EMI’s after 3 months, provided that, the interest on such EMI’s shall still be accrued on the said period of deferment. A moratorium refers to the legal authorization by an authority or the government to the debtors to defer the payment. This decision was taken to ease the burdens on millions of citizens in the country who have availed loans from various banks but in light of their daily work being disrupted by the lockdown, may not be able to earn their regular incomes, and in turn, could have problems in paying the due EMI’s. The decision has been lauded as well as criticized and also been challenged in the Supreme Court, seeking clarification on the incomplete reliefs as provided by the RBI.
This pandemic has taught us one thing for sure, that there is an imminent need to be well prepared to deal with a situation like the one grappling us now shortly. From the reduction in incomes to reduction in the inflow of cases and work, suffice it to say that this outbreak has not only affected the lives of Lawyers and the Legal Fraternity but people everywhere. No one has been left untouched. No sector or field today remains unaffected. What we can do is learn from these trying times and follow in the footsteps of the ones before us. The mighty celebrities in this field, may they be judges, politicians or esteemed Lawyers have only one thing to say, that the need of the hour is to not lose hope but rather work on ourselves, with channelizing our energy, skills and creativity in a direction where we can not only improve our skills but also learn from those of others. From attending webinars to enrolling in free online courses to reading books on the lives of great jurists and eminent lawyers, there is a lot that one can do to become a better version of them and to become a better lawyer.