Taking suo motu cognizance of the brutal police assault on lawyers in Howrah following a row with the Howrah municipal corporation staff over parking, the Calcutta High Court today said "The Court premises are locations which are to be insulated from all sorts of intrusions, except as authorised by law" and that "the society cannot afford to exclude the existence of courts within the reasonable reach of the citizens, including geographically".
A bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee issued notices to the Centre, the West Bengal government, the Director General of Police, the Commissioner of Police from Howrah Commissionerate, the Commissioner of Howrah Municipal Corporation, Superintendent of Police, Howrah Commissionerate, Commissioner of Howrah Municipal Corporation Station House Officer (SHO), Howrah.
The bench ordered the matter to be registered as a writ petition having "regard to the different aspects and issues which may be relevant for consideration in larger public interest and for protecting the premises of Courts and to ensure that due process in terms of the Constitution and the laws are obeyed and enforced in relation to the incident at Howrah"
Since the fight started over parking, the bench also stressed on the duty of the state to provide proper infrastructure for the courts.
The petition will now come up for hearing on May 1.
On the administrative side, the court said it will ensure that judicial functioning of the Courts at Howrah is smoothly carried out.
"For this purpose the organizations of the Advocates, including the Bar Council of West Bengal and other requisite stake-holders, may extend such cooperation as the High Court may require and call for. It is clarified that the pendency of this Writ Petition on the Judicial Side will not, in any manner, stand in the way of any action that the High Court may take on the Administrative Side".
It is to be noted here that the State Bar Association had struck work till today in wake of the April 24 incident where lawyers and the Howrah civic staff fought a pitched battle for hours after an elderly lawyer was turned away by the guard of the civic headquarters on Mahatma Gandhi Road as he tried to park his vehicle in the civic agency's compound.
After a quarrel, many lawyers joined him and protested against the guard insulting the elderly lawyer. The matter escalated. The lawyers claim they were attacked by the civic agency staff. The staff, on the other hand, claims they were attacked first.
The police intervened and chased away lawyers while thrashing many resulting in severe injuries.
It is to be noted that the Bar Council of West Bengal had ceased work till today and also resolved to meet the Chief Justice on April 30 i.e. tomorrow.
Stressing on the need for courts, the assistance lawyers and the court staff provide in ensuring smooth working of the justice delivery system, the bench said, "The judicial power and dispensation of justice is part of the sovereign function. The seat of the sovereign power, that is, the Court, has necessarily to be sustained in the larger public interest".
Citing from Baradakanta Mishra v. Registrar of Orissa, the High Court said, "…the whole set up of a court is for the administration of justice and the courts have to perform multifarious functions for due administration of justice. The presiding Judge is assisted by a complement of clerks and ministerial officers. Records have to be maintained. In modern-day administration of courts, even electronic gadgets are used to expedite the justice delivery system".
Need for a building for a court is fundamental to its existence
Considering that the row took place over parking, the high court stressed on the need for accessible courts and the need for proper court buildings and infrastructure in the courts.
"Access to justice is not only a matter enumerated among the Directive Principles of State Policy which obliges the State to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of the equal opportunity, it is inherent in the seminal doctrine of equality contained in Article 14 of the Constitution that the State shall not deny equal protection of the laws, as also equality before the law. The fundamental entitlement of the citizenry to be governed by the rule of law is well engrafted even in the Preamble to the Constitution, which requires that justice has to be secured to all the citizens. Therefore, society cannot afford to exclude the existence of courts within the reasonable reach of the citizens, including geographically. Hence, the State is duty bound to ensure the presence of courts, as required.
"The need for a building for a court is fundamental to its existence. Judicial institutions are the institutions of the national life contemporaneous with the fact that they are the seeds of the dispensation of the Judicial Authority under the Constitution and the Laws. Such authority of the Court being an inseparable element of the sovereign, unauthorised intrusion into its premises and the activities would stand to breach the Constitution and the Laws. The executive agency of a State, viz., the Government, has the constitutional duty to provide infrastructure for the Courts and also to protect those institutions and premises dedicated for activities in connection with the Courts.
"The Courts are Constitutional Forts of Power and Authority from where Judicial Power is exercised on behalf of the Sovereign. The Court premises are locations which are to be insulated from all sorts of intrusions, except as authorised by law," it stressed.
The bench also spoke about courts deriving their power from the people in the Republic of India and the weapon of judicial review in its armory.