Irked by lawyers holding strike every Saturday for 35 years in Uttarakhand district courts over reasons like ‘bomb blast in Pakistan‘, ‘earthquake in Nepal‘ or ‘condolence references for family members‘, the Supreme Court Friday warned advocates of contempt action if they persisted with it.
Holding the strike illegal, the top court sought response from Bar Council of India and all the State Bar Councils within six weeks to suggest the further course of action to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining from work by the lawyers.
Taking suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the issue, the top court emphasised that at a time when the judiciary is facing serious problem of pendency and delay in disposal of cases, how can the institution as a whole can afford such four days strike in a month.
The top court said that every month on 3-4 Saturdays, the advocates are on strike on one pretext or the other and had the lawyers worked on those days, it would have achieved the ultimate goal of speedy justice, which is now a fundamental right.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah said that boycotting courts on every Saturday in the districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand is not justifiable at all and as such it tantamount to contempt of the courts.
The bench dismissed the appeal filed by Dehradun Bar Association challenging the Uttarakhand high court order of September 25 last year, which asked the lawyers‘ and their associations to withdraw the strike in district courts and warned them of contempt action.
While dismissing the appeal, it said, “The high court is absolutely justified in issuing the impugned directions. We are in complete agreement with the view expressed by the high court and the ultimate conclusion and the directions issued by the high court”.
The bench added that despite of law laid down in various verdicts of apex court, the court had time and again deprecated the lawyers for going on strikes but it were continued unabated.
“Even in the present case, the advocates have been boycotting the courts on all Saturdays, in the entire district of Dehradun, in several parts of the district of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar district of the State of Uttaranchal. Because of such strikes, the ultimate sufferers are the litigants,” the top court said.
It noted the information sent by the high court to the Law Commission with respect to the state for the years 2012- 2016, which 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 was 515 days (about 103 days per year).
The bench said, “From the data mentioned in the impugned judgment and order, things are very shocking. Every month on 3-4 Saturdays, the advocates are on strike and abstain from working, on one pretext or the other”.
The top court said had the lawyers worked on those days, 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.
“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,” it added.
The top court directed all concerned District Bar Associations to comply with the directions issued by the high court in its verdict of 2019, in its true spirit.
“It is directed that if it is found that there is any breach of any of the directions issued by the high court in the impugned judgment and order, a serious view shall be taken and the consequences shall follow, including the punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act,” it said.
The top court said that despite the earlier warnings and the strong words used by the courts, it appears that the message has not reached and still the lawyers go on strikes.
“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,” the bench said.
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.
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.