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Suo Motu Case On Lawyers' Strikes: No Response From BCI, State Bar Councils; Supreme Court Requests BCI Chairman To Assist Court

Mehal Jain
26 July 2021 4:08 PM GMT
Suo Motu Case On Lawyers Strikes: No Response From BCI, State Bar Councils; Supreme Court Requests BCI Chairman To Assist Court
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In connection with the problem of strikes and abstention of work by lawyers, the Supreme Court on Monday has requested the Chairman of the Bar Council of India to render assistance to the Court. On February 28, 2020, the Court, taking a serious note of the fact that despite consistent decisions of the Court, still the lawyers/Bar Associations go on strikes, had taken suo moto cognisance...

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In connection with the problem of strikes and abstention of work by lawyers, the Supreme Court on Monday has requested the Chairman of the Bar Council of India to render assistance to the Court. 

On February 28, 2020, the Court, taking a serious note of the fact that despite consistent decisions of the Court, still the lawyers/Bar Associations go on strikes, had taken suo moto cognisance and issued notices to the Bar Council of India and all the State Bar Councils to suggest the further course of action and to give concrete suggestions to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining the work by the lawyers.

The bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah on Monday observed that the Office Report indicates that despite the judgment of the Court, no response has been received either from the Bar Council of India or from the State Bar Councils.
"In these circumstances, we direct that a copy of the order and of the judgment of this Court shall be furnished to Shri Manan Kumar Mishra, Chairperson of the Bar Council of India. We request Mr Manan Kumar Mishra, learned senior counsel to render assistance to this Court in his capacity as Chairperson of the Bar Council of India", said the bench on Monday.
The Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Shah, by their judgment of February 28, 2020, come down heavily on the advocates in the districts of Dehradun, Hardwar and Udham Singh Nagar in the State of Uttarakhand for holding strike by boycotting courts.

The SC also noted that despite directions in precedents such as Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India, lawyers' strikes were happening. In this backdrop, suo moto notices were issued to the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils to suggest the further course of action and to give concrete suggestions to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining the work by the lawyers.

A bench comprising Justices Mishra and M R Shah categorically held that boycott of courts by advocates was illegal, and cannot be justified as an exercise of right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

"To go on strike/boycott courts cannot be justified under the guise of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Nobody has the right to go on strike/boycott courts. Even, such a right, if any, cannot affect the rights of others and more particularly, the right of Speedy Justice guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution", the Court observed.

The Court was considering an appeal filed by the District Bar Association, Dehradun against the judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court delivered on September 25 last year which held such strikes to be illegal. The HC had noted that the lawyers had been boycotting courts on Saturdays for past 35 years.The HC had also directed action against advocates for abstaining from work on court days.

Before the SC, the Association submitted that the strike is a mode of peaceful representation to express the grievances by the lawyers' community in the absence of other forum for the same.

Rejecting this submission, the SC observed that every month on 3-4 Saturdays, the Advocates were on strike on one pretext or the other. The data relied on by the HC showed that in Dehradun district, the Advocates were on strike for 455 days (on an average 91 days per year) and in Haridwar district it is 515 days (about 103 days per year). This was termed as "shocking" by the top court.

"In spite of the law laid down by this Court in the aforesaid decisions, this Court time and again deprecated the lawyers to go on strikes, the strikes were continued unabated", the bench observed.

It was further said :

"If the lawyers would have worked on those days, it would have been in the larger interest and it would have achieved the ultimate goal of speedy justice, which is now recognized as a fundamental right under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. It would have helped in early disposal of the criminal trials and therefore it would have been in the interest of those who are languishing in the jail and waiting for their trial to conclude. When the Institution is facing a serious problem of arrears and delay in disposal of cases, how the Institution as a whole can afford such four days strike in a month".

Direction to BCI and State Bar Council

The Court had observed that ispite of the decisions of this Court in the cases of Ex-Capt Harish Uppal, Common Cause, A Registered Society and Krishnakant Namrakar and despite the warnings by the courts time and again, still, in some of the courts, the lawyers go on strikes/are on strikes.

"It appears that despite the strong words used by this Court in the aforesaid decisions, criticizing the conduct on the part of the lawyers to go on strikes, it appears that the message has not reached. Even despite the resolution of the Bar Council of India dated 29.09.2002, thereafter, no further concrete steps are taken even by the Bar Council of India and/or other Bar Councils of the States. A day has now come for the Bar Council of India and the Bar Councils of the States to step in and to take concrete steps. It is the duty of the Bar Councils to ensure that there is no unprofessional and unbecoming conduct by any lawyer. As observed by this Court in the case of Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal, the Bar Council of India is enjoined with a duty of laying down the standards of professional conduct and etiquette for Advocates. It is further observed that this would mean that the Bar Council of India ensures that advocates do not behave in an unprofessional and unbecoming manner. Section 48 of the Advocates Act gives a right to the Bar Council of India to give directions to the State Bar Councils. It is further observed that the Bar Associations may be separate bodies but all advocates who are members of such associations are under disciplinary jurisdiction of the Bar Councils and thus the Bar Councils can always control their conduct", the bench had said.

Therefore, taking a serious note of the fact that despite the aforesaid decisions of this Court, still the lawyers/Bar Associations go on strikes, the Court took suo moto cognisance and issue notices to the Bar Council of India and all the State Bar Councils to suggest the further course of action and to give concrete suggestions to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining the work by the lawyers.

DISTRICT BAR ASSOCIATION DEHRADUN v. ISHWAR SHANDILYA & ORS.

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