New Delhi, September 29, 2023 – The Rajasthan High Court Bar Association at Jaipur Bench has once again incurred the wrath of the Supreme Court for engaging in a boycott, leaving the High Court without the necessary legal assistance. A bench consisting of Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal expressed disappointment as they were hearing a special leave petition against an adverse order issued by the High Court due to the non-appearance of advocates, caused by the ongoing lawyers’ strike.The Supreme Court, deprecating the conduct of the Bar Association, issued notices to both the Association and the Bar Council of India on September 27.
The bench ordered,
“Considering the conduct of the Bar Association, we direct the petitioner to implead the concerned Bar Association of Advocates practicing at Jaipur Bench of the Rajasthan High Court as well as the Bar Council of India as party respondent Nos. 3 and 4 respectively.” The case is scheduled for further hearings on November 3.
It’s worth noting that in 2021, the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association, Jaipur, had previously tendered an “unconditional & unqualified apology” to the Supreme Court regarding contempt proceedings initiated against them for boycotting a bench of the High Court during a strike. The Association had also committed to refrain from participating in court boycotts in the future.
In that instance, a Bench comprising Justices MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna, while accepting the apology, recorded that the office bearers of the Bar Association had pledged not to go on strike or pressurize the Chief Justice or any other Judge to change the roster. They also vowed not to resort to pressure tactics and to resolve conflicts by lawful methods.
Background of the Current Case
The impugned order in the present case was issued by the High Court in response to an application filed under Order 22 Rule 10 CPC (Procedure in case of assignment before the final order in the suit). The High Court allowed the application without hearing either party, citing the non-appearance of counsels as illegal and in breach of the Supreme Court’s order in the case of Ex-Captain Harish Uppal vs. Union of India & Anr., 2003 (2) SCC 45.
In the Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal case, a three-judge Bench had categorically asserted that lawyers have no right to go on strike or call for a boycott, even on a token strike. The court held that any protest should take non-disruptive forms such as press statements, TV interviews, banners or placards outside court premises, peaceful protest marches away from court premises, dharnas, or relay fasts. It emphasized that no adverse consequences should befall lawyers who refuse to participate in strikes, and no threat or coercion should be employed by associations or councils.
Recent Legal Actions Against Lawyer Strikes
This incident is not isolated, as similar legal actions have been taken in response to lawyer strikes in various parts of India. On September 12, a bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kauland Sudhanshu Dhulia issued notice to a bar association in Odisha for abstaining from court work for a day due to the death of one of its members. The Bench emphasized that such unfortunate incidents should not bring judicial work to a standstill.
On September 14, the Allahabad High Court, responding to a strike by lawyers related to the Hapur Incident, suggested that erring officers and bureaucrats should be summoned to court to justify their actions.
In another instance, the Allahabad High Court framed contempt charges against office bearers of the Kanpur Bar Associations and Lawyers’ Association Kanpur Nagar for continuing their strike despite the High Court’s order not to boycott district courts.
The Supreme Court has also sought an affidavit from the Bar Council of India detailing the actions taken when bar associations have called for strikes in the past year, highlighting the difficulties caused by abstention of work and its impact on the functioning of the courts.
Hence, the recent standoff between the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association and the Supreme Court underscores the ongoing challenges caused by lawyer strikes and their impact on the judicial system. Legal actions and notices from the courts signal a growing intolerance for disruptions to the judicial process, emphasizing the need for alternate means of protest that do not hamper court proceedings.