The Bombay High Court pronounced a judgment on Friday accepting apologies from various bar associations across the state of Maharashtra in the matter regarding abstention from judicial work demanding establishment of a bench at Pune and Kolhapur.
Justice AS Oka and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai were hearing a suo-motu criminal contempt petition tagged along with a civil writ petition raising the query that whether the decision by members of various bar associations across the state to abstain from judicial work and calling on other members to support their demand for a separate bench at Pune or Kolhapur, amount to criminal contempt.
On June 30, 2015, a note was submitted by the then Registrar (Judicial-I) before the Chief Justice on the administrative side seeking initiation of suo-motu criminal contempt against the Chairman, office bearers/members of the Pune Bar Association who have called for an indefinite strike thereby “paralyzing the administration of justice system”.
Chief Justice Mohit Shah (as he was then) allowed the prayer and directed the initiation of suo motu contempt proceedings to be presided over by a bench headed by Justice AS Oka.
On July 3, 2015, when High Court questioned Senior Counsel Prasad Dhakephalkar, Counsel for the President of the Pune Bar stated that on the basis of a resolution passed by the Bar Association, June 19 onward the lawyers are abstaining from work in all the civil and criminal courts as well as tribunals in Pune District.
He further stated that lawyers were protesting against the failure of the state government to recommend establishment of a bench of this court in Pune.
The very next day, it was submitted by Dhakephalkar that a resolution withdrawing the earlier one has been passed.
Thereafter, notices were issued to office-bearers of the Pune Family Court for abstaining from court work. This led to an affidavit dated August 6, 2015, wherein the respondent office bearers tendered unconditional apology and assured that such an act would not be repeated.
Thereafter, Chief Justice passed an administrative order asking the submission of reports from Principal District Judge, Kolhapur and Principal District judge, Sindhudurg, before the bench headed by Justice Oka.
The report dated September 9 submitted by the Principal District Judge, Kolhapur stated that members of the Kolhapur Bar Association took out a mock funeral procession of the Chief Justice and, thereafter, his effigy was burnt in the court premises. Press cuttings of the news published in various local newspapers were also annexed in the report.
Thereafter, slogans were raised against the Chief Justice and members of the said association abstained from judicial work for three days.
Similarly, it was reported by principal district judges from Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Satara that Bar Associations of Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Lanja, Dapoli, Guhagar and Taluka Bar Associations at Medha, Dahiwadi, Waduj and Koregaon abstained from judicial work between September 9 and September 11.
The court highlighted the legal position in the matter laid down by the apex court in the case of Ex.Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India and others, which was-
“Thus, the law is already well settled. It is the duty of every advocate who has accepted a brief to attend trial, even though it may go on day to day and for a prolonged period. It is also settled law that a lawyer who has accepted a brief cannot refuse to attend court because a boycott call is given by the Bar Association. It is settled law that it is unprofessional as well as unbecoming for a lawyer who has accepted a brief to refuse to attend court even in pursuance of a call for strike or boycott by the Bar Association or the Bar Council.”
The bench further observed the trouble caused due to abstention from judicial work from a pendency standpoint-
“In the State of Maharashtra, there is a huge pendency of cases in all the Courts. Abstention by the members of the Bar leads to further delay in disposal of the proceedings. In many cases, the accused could not get bail though they deserved the grant of bail on merits, on account of boycott and/or strike by the members of the Bar. In many civil cases, the litigants must have been deprived of an opportunity to get an urgent adinterim relief. Such a call given for strike or to abstain from the Court work directly interferes with the administration of justice.”
Thus, the court noted that such acts amount to not only civil but criminal contempt. It observed that taking a mock funeral procession of then CJ Mohit Shah on his last day of office should not have taken place.
Finally, in light of affidavits from all the aforementioned Bar associations tendering apology for abstention, the court agreed to dispose of the contempt proceedings.