11 Oct 2023 5:30 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on (October 10) heard an appeal challenging the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order wherein a Suo Motu case was taken up by the Court in the wake of a strike by the lawyers in the State against a scheme for disposing of pending cases.In the impugned order, the High Court directed “If any lawyer deliberately avoids to attend the court, it shall be presumed that there...
The Supreme Court on (October 10) heard an appeal challenging the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order wherein a Suo Motu case was taken up by the Court in the wake of a strike by the lawyers in the State against a scheme for disposing of pending cases.
In the impugned order, the High Court directed “If any lawyer deliberately avoids to attend the court, it shall be presumed that there is disobedience of this order and he will be faced with serious consequences including initiation of proceedings for contempt of court under the Contempt of Courts Act.”
In consequence to the said direction, proceedings for contempt were initiated against more than 2500 lawyers. In the present appeal, one of the lawyers named Varun Thakur, against whom contempt proceedings were initiated, had approached the Top Court.
After hearing Thakur’s grievance and noting that the issue has now mostly been settled, the Bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia asked him to approach the High Court while saying that the High Court may revisit the issue.
Before the Supreme Court, the counsel appearing for the petitioner submitted that contempt notice has been issued against all lawyers who did not appear on the day of the strike.
“I have not deliberately not appeared. I have not appeared because bar council had called for a strike. I and the other lawyers are not in a position to ignore the call of the bar council. So, let the action be against bar council and its members. There were more than 2500 contempt petitions pending and it has larger impact on the lawyers."
After hearing the Counsel, the Bench ordered:
“It is the submission of the counsel that lawyers find it practically difficult to attend to the court proceedings when strikes are called by the bar association/ bar council and it is not feasible for them to be physically endangered. Thus, the presumption of the disobedience with serious consequences (as opined in the impugned order) has resulted in notices being issued to more than 2500 advocates. We are now told that the matter is now largely settle but the grievance is that those contempt notices still survives. We think it is appropriate that High Court may revisit the issue…. so that all advocates who are not able to attend the proceedings and who are not office bearers should not unnecessarily suffer.”
By the letter dated 20.03.2023, the Chairman of the State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh addressed a communication to the High Court Chief Justice to the effect that unless the scheme relating to disposal of 25 identified cases in every quarter is not withdrawn by 22.03.2023 they would protest the issue seriously. It was further stated therein that the general body in its meeting held on 18.03.2023 has unanimously resolved that if the High Court does not withdraw the scheme pertaining to disposal of 25 oldest cases up to 22.03.2023, all the lawyers in the State of Madhya Pradesh will collectively protest and will abstain from judicial work w.e.f. 23.03.2023.
In the impugned order, the Court did not mince it words while observing that the “Court cannot be a mute spectator to the blatant disobedience of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court (Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal’s case). It is the solemn duty of this court to uphold the rule of law and also to deal with all such persons who violate the law and who have no respect for the rule of law.”
The Court came down heavily on the errant lawyers and opined that the duty of the lawyer is to fight for the legal rights of his clients and to ensure the rule of law. The rule of law is one of the basic tenets of the legal profession. Therefore, it is the duty of every lawyer to uphold the rule of law.
The Court also highlighted that the case of Praveen Pandey vs. State of Madhya Pradesh and others Writ Petition No.8078 of 2018. The undertaking given by the accused, namely, the State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh and others was noted in the order dated 22.03.2016 passed in Contempt Petition No.296 of 2016 to the effect that it was undertaken that henceforth a precaution would be taken and if eventualities require for resorting to any manner of protest, the Bar Council will ensure that strictly in the light of the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal vs. Union of India and Another reported in (2003) 2 SCC 45 action would be taken.
Imperatively, in Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal’s case, it was held:
“In conclusion, it is held that lawyers have no right to go on strike or give a call for boycott, not even on a token strike. The protest, if any is required, can only be by giving press statements, TV interviews, carrying out of Court premises banners and/or placards, wearing black or white or any colour arm bands, peaceful protest marches outside and away from court premises, going on dharnas or relay fasts etc. It is held that lawyers holding vakalats on behalf of their clients cannot refuse to attend courts in pursuance of a call for strike or boycott. All lawyers must boldly refuse to abide by any call for strike or boycott.”
The High Court went on to condemn such act and stated that “the permission of the Hon’ble Chief Justice should have been obtained well in advance. The respondent No.1 has failed to do so. He has not complied with the orders of the Hon'ble Supreme Court.”
At the end of the order, before passing directions, the Court noted that the entire judicial system is intended only for the benefit of the litigants. Everyone in the system is geared to deal with the grievances of the litigants. If advocates themselves abstain from work due to the call given by the respondent No.1, it is indeed a very sad day for the State of Madhya Pradesh.
Recently, the Supreme Court also deprecated lawyers’ strike at Rajasthan High Court Jaipur bench; and issued notice to bar association.
Case Title: Varun Thakur Vs. High Court Of Madhya Pradesh, Diary No. 32303 - 2023