A lawyer on Tuesday appeared at a virtual hearing before a Supreme Court bench without his shirt on, prompting the surprised justices to bemoan the lack of decorum, and India’s second most senior law officer to describe the incident as “unpardonable”.

The image of the lawyer, Suvidutt, an advocate on record who was appearing for website OpIndia in a public interest limitation matter involving news channel Sudarshan TV, flashed for a few seconds when the hearing began on Monday before a bench of justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee.

Surprised by his appearance, justice Chandrachud asked: “Who is this lawyer?”

The lawyer appeared to realise his mistake, and put on a shirt, but logged out soon after without offering an explanation to the bench.

Justice Chandrachud told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing in the case for the Union government, that it was important that caution be exercised when coming before the court. “I am not one who takes action against lawyers but this is a Court for all purposes. Some decorum has to be maintained by lawyers while appearing before us. Caution must be taken in future,” justice Chandrachud said.

Mehta described the episode as “unpardonable”.

When contacted, Suvidutt declined to comment. He wrote to Solicitor General offering an explanation for his conduct and expressed a sincere apology for what had happened.

Advocate Shivaji Jadhav, president of the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association, said no complaint was sent to them in this regard. “It appears to be a mistake by the lawyer for which he should offer apology. At the same time, we must understand that such things can happen during a virtual court proceeding,” he said.

Ever since proceedings of the Supreme Court and several high courts have switched to videoconferencing because of the Covid pandemic, there have been instances of lack of decorum during hearings, with some lawyers seen eating food, smoking, chewing gutkha, dressed casually, or lying on a bed.

The Rajasthan high court in April this year reprimanded a lawyer who appeared to argue a bail matter in a vest. On September 24,a lawyer found smoking in a car during a Gujarat high court virtual hearing was slapped with a cost of Rs 10,000.

In May, the Supreme Court secretary general Sanjeev S Kalgaonkar issued a notification allowing lawyers to shun their long robes and coats while appearing before the court through videoconferencing.

While lawyers agreed that the need to maintain decorum during virtual court hearings was paramount, they pointed out that sometimes there is no advance notice of when they will become visible to the judges.

Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain said: “The lawyers appearing before a court log in since morning and have to wait for hours before their case comes up. When the matter reaches, the Control Room of the Supreme Court un-mutes the mic and camera that makes the lawyer visible to the Court. Mistakes do happen in such a scenario.”

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