8 May 2023 8:37 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its strong displeasure at a Bar Association for passing resolutions to obstruct the work of lawyers appointed as volunteers under the Legal Aid Defence System of the National Legal Services Authority. A bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud observed that passing such resolutions amount to "sheer contempt of court".The bench, also...
The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its strong displeasure at a Bar Association for passing resolutions to obstruct the work of lawyers appointed as volunteers under the Legal Aid Defence System of the National Legal Services Authority.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud observed that passing such resolutions amount to "sheer contempt of court".
The bench, also comprising Justices PS Narsimha and JB Pardiwala, was hearing a petition seeking contempt action against Bar Association of Bharatpur(Rajasthan) for obstructing the work of legal aid defence counsel appointed under the legal aid scheme. The petitioners, who were appointed as public defenders under the NALSA scheme, complained that they were suspended from the association for not following its diktats.
"The Bar Association Committee has also unanimously passed a resolution in August 2022, prohibiting any member of the association from applying for the post of defence counsel, and commanding members who are already engaged to either resign from the membership of the association or from their post", the petitioners said in the petition.
Censuring the bar association for obstructing the work of legal aid defence counsel, CJI DY Chandrachud orally said : "The reason why lawyers don't want anyone to appear in defence counsel system is that you want to ensure that there is no legal aid. This is sheer criminal contempt"
"Please inform the Bar association that we're taking very strict view of this. You cannot say that nobody will appear as defence counsel", CJI added. The CJI highlighted that denying someone of legal aid amounted to criminal contempt.
"This is sheer criminal contempt. We will send all these people to jail. You must withdraw the resolution", CJI warned.
"We direct the Bar Association Committee of Bharatpur to file a counter affidavit explaining whether the resolution has been withdrawn. The office bearers to remain personally present. Let the contemnor be also present."
Through the petition, it had been alleged that the Bar Association Committee, Bharatpur, Rajasthan was obstructing the work of legal aid defence counsel appointed by the Legal Services Authority.
In March, the Supreme Court had stayed the decision of the Association to suspend the petitioners.
Lawyers in Bharatpur have been striking in protest against the introduction of the Legal Aid Defence Counsel Scheme in the district. “Due to the sudden introduction of the Legal Aid Defence Counsel Scheme in Bharatpur, the bar has been agitating against the legal services authorities. When the recruitment process was initiated, the collective leadership of the associations registered a protest against it. The movement was led by the president of the Bar Association Committee, and the convenor and president of the Bar Sangarsh Samiti,” the petitioners have explained.
This newly introduced scheme, which engages lawyers full-time to exclusively devote their effort to provide legal aid, assistance and representation to persons accused or convicted of crimes, was initially introduced in sessions courts in a few districts across the country as a pilot project but is gradually being extended to other parts of India as well as to other criminal courts. This is vastly different from the most predominant model of dispensing legal aid, which is by assigning cases to empanelled lawyers who also have private practices.
The petitioner have moved the contempt petition alleging that the acts of the Bar Association amount to "wilful and severe disobedience" to the law as laid down in a landmark judgement on professional ethics, Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India, AIR 2003 SC 739. The Harish Uppal bench had soundly rejected the right of lawyers to go on strike or give a call for boycott.
Case Title: Purnaprakash Sharma & Ors v Yashwant Singh Faujdar & Ors | Contempt Petition (C) No. 726/2023 in W.P.(C) No. 132/1988
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