The Supreme Court has held that the practice of lawyers in some courts in Uttarakhand going on “strike” and skipping work on Saturdays, citing reasons like bomb blast in a Pakistan school, earthquake in Nepal and death of family members of some advocates was “illegal”.
Justice MR Shah while reading out the operative part of the division bench judgment, said that the lawyers in the three districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar were guilty of contempt and called on the Bar Council of India and the state bar bodies must take note of the judgment and initiate action against the striking lawyers.
The apex court said the strikes by lawyers are illegal, violative of previous court orders and also amount to obstruction of access to justice.
In the four years between 2012 and 2016, advocates in the Uttarakhand capital of Dehra Dun were on strike for 455 days while those in Hardwar struck work on 515 days. The strikes by the men in black were for various reasons and also included bomb blasts in a Pakistan school, earthquakes in Nepal, the inter-state river water dispute and, hold your breath, a nearby kavi sammelan.
It was such “flimsy reasons” that made the Supreme Court chide the lawyers recently for resorting to such a “joke”. The apex court was hearing an appeal against the verdict of the Uttarakhand High Court which had held as “illegal” the strikes or boycotts of court work on all Saturdays by lawyers in Dehradun and in several parts of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar.
In its September 25, 2019 verdict, the high court had referred to the 266th report of the Law Commission, which had analyzed data on loss of working days on account of strikes by lawyers and had opined that it affects the functioning of courts and contributes to the ever-mounting pendency of cases, agencies reported.
Referring to the Law Commission’s report, the high court had noted that strikes by advocates or their abstinence from courts varied from local, national to international issues, having no relevance to the working of the courts, and were seldom for justifiable reasons.
“To mention a few, bomb blast in a Pakistan school, amendments to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, inter-state river water disputes, attack on/murder of an advocate, earthquake in Nepal, condoling the death of near relatives of advocates, expressing solidarity to advocates of other state bar associations, moral support to movements by social activists, heavy rains….and even for kavi-sammelans,” the high court had noted in its verdict.
The appeal against the high court’s verdict came up for hearing before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah on Thursday. “This is happening everywhere in the country. This is a fit case to initiate suo motu contempt. How can bar association say that they will continue with the strike?” the bench remarked.
“Things have collapsed,” the bench said, adding, “The order (of high court) is fully justified”.“We cannot permit things like this. Everybody is going on strike. Today, strike is going on in every part of the country. We should be very harsh now. How can you say that the bar will be on strike on every Saturday?” the bench said.
“You are doing a joke. Family member of advocate dies and the entire bar will go on strike? What is this,” the bench had said while reserving its order on an appeal filed by a lawyers’ body of Dehradun.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner had told the bench that strike has stopped in Dehradun district.
In its verdict, the high court had noted that “genesis of this peculiar form” of protest of boycotting work on Saturdays for over 35 years was traceable to western Uttar Pradesh, of which the aforesaid districts formed part of, before the state of Uttarakhand was created on November 9, 2000.
It had noted that advocates from western Uttar Pradesh have been on strike on all Saturdays for the past three and half decades in pursuit of their demand that a high court bench be established in the region.
— India Legal Bureau