Supreme Court Directs Manipur Bar Associations To Not Prevent Lawyers Of Any Community From Appearing Before Courts; Warns Of Contempt Action
The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Bar Associations in Manipur to not prevent any lawyer, regardless of their community, to appear before the courts. The bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra clarified that the direction was not passed on any complaint but merely to caution all lawyers to ensure that access to justice is not prevented. The...
The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Bar Associations in Manipur to not prevent any lawyer, regardless of their community, to appear before the courts. The bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra clarified that the direction was not passed on any complaint but merely to caution all lawyers to ensure that access to justice is not prevented. The bench further added that any violation of the direction would amount to contempt of the court's order.
The Court passed the direction while hearing a batch of petitions relating to the ethnic clashes which have been going on the state between Meitei and Kuki communities since May this year.
During the hearing, Senior Advocate Anand Grover told the Supreme Court that lawyers appearing for a particular committee were being threatened, attacked, and prevented from appearing before the Manipur High Court and that lawyers must be provided with protection. It may be recalled that Grover had earlier told the Supreme Court that lawyers were not willing to appear for certain people due to threats. He had also cited the instance of lawyers withdrawing from the case of Professor Kham Khan Suan Hausing in the Manipur High Court after the house and office of one of them was vandalised. In fact, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) had also expressed serious concerns at the reports of attacks against lawyers in Manipur for taking up cases.
Initially, CJI DY Chandrachud expressed disinclination by saying–
"Why give protection only to lawyers? Why not all citizens then? We don't believe that the High Court is not working..."
Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Manipur High Court Bar Association, refuted the allegations and said that the Bar Association President, who is present in the Court room, can personally vouch that all lawyers are granted access.
The CJI then asked the Association President – "Mr President, are any community's lawyers being prevented to appear before the court?". The President responded in negative and stated that no lawyers were being prevented from appearing before the court. In response, the CJI asked the President to show a sample of orders which would indicate that lawyers from all communities are appearing before the High Court.
"You can also give us a bunch of orders to show that members of bar are not being prevented to appear based on religious or any other affiliations. This is just to satisfy our conscience".
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the State of Manipur, said that the as per the report filed by the Registrar General in 30 days, 2638 cases were listed for hearing and the facility of virtual hearing was made available every day. This shows that the High Court is functioning normally, the SG said, while adding that the petitioners were making an "unfortunate attempt to add flame to the situation by using the court."
However, in order to allay any apprehension regarding the full access to the Manipur High Court by the members of the bar, the bench passed an order directing :
"There are nine judicial districts which covers all sixteen districts in Manipur. The State of Manipur along with the Chief Justice of the High Court shall ensure that video conference facility are set up and operationalised to ensure that any member of bar or litigant can address the court. The video conferencing shall be operationalised no later than one week of this order."
The court added–
"The members of the bar shall ensure that no lawyer is prevented from appearing before the court. Any violation of this direction shall be treated as contempt."
While closing the matter for the day, the CJI said–
"We have not acted on any complaint, we have just cautioned...we want to ensure access to justice."
After the order was dictated, a lawyer belonging to the Kuki community addressed the bench saying that his house was attacked in the ethnic violence and that he had to flee.
Case Title: Dinganglung Gangmei v. Mutum Churamani Meetei And Ors. Diary No. 19206-2023
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 837