In a recent development, the Supreme Court has taken a critical stance against the Raigarh Bar Association in Odisha for abstaining from court work for a day following the unfortunate death of one of its members. The Court, while empathizing with the loss, emphasized that such incidents should not bring judicial work to a standstill.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and SudhanshuDhulia was presiding over contempt proceedings initiated against lawyers involved in vandalism during a strike in Odisha last year. In a previous hearing, the Court had expressed disapproval of the practice followed by bar associations in Odisha to suspend a whole day’s work as a mark of condolence for the death of a lawyer.

The counsel representing the Orissa High Court informed the bench that there have been no strikes since the previous orders, except for the one-day abstention by the Bar Association of Raigarh due to the advocate’s demise. In response, the Bench issued a notice to the concerned Bar Association and remarked that, “unfortunate as the incident may be, this cannot bring judicial working to a standstill.” Justice Kaul also stated, “Let them come and say that they will not do this in the future.

Furthermore, the Court provided one last opportunity for the contemnors to file their affidavits, warning that those who fail to do so within two weeks will have to appear before the Court.

During the hearing, a counsel mentioned the recent strike in the Allahabad High Court as a protest against an attack on lawyers by policemen in Hapur. Justice Kaul responded, “If it comes before us, we will deal with it the same way.”

These contempt proceedings stem from a strike initiated by the Central Action Committee of all Bar Associations, seeking additional Benches of the Orissa High Court. The strike escalated into violence, leading the Court to issue contempt notices to all officer bearers of Bar Associations who participated in the strike and engaged in violence.

It is noteworthy that this incident occurred even after a 2022 Supreme Court order warning protesting lawyers to return to work or face contempt action and license suspension. The Bench expressed disapproval over the 2,14,176 judicial working hours lost in subordinate courts between January 1 and September 30, 2022, due to the strike, which practically brought the judicial system to a standstill and jeopardized the litigating public.

In the last hearing, the Court noted that out of the 190 lawyers to whom the Apex Court had issued notice, 33 are yet to file their affidavits.

Elevating Judicial Integrity

The recent actions and decisions of the Supreme Court underscore the critical importance of maintaining uninterrupted judicial processes. Courts are the pillars of justice in any democracy, and they play an indispensable role in upholding the rule of law.

The Supreme Court’s firm stance against work abstention following the demise of a lawyer emphasizes that while empathy and solidarity with the legal fraternity are essential, they should not impede the essential functioning of the judiciary. Justice Kaul’s words, “unfortunate as the incident may be, this cannot bring judicial working to a standstill,” serve as a reminder that justice delayed is justice denied, and the judicial system must continue to serve the needs of the litigating public.

Addressing Strikes: A Prerequisite for a Functioning Judiciary

The contempt proceedings against lawyers who engaged in violence during strikes highlight a recurring issue in the legal profession—strikes that disrupt court proceedings. The strike initiated by the Central Action Committee of all Bar Associations in Odisha, initially aimed at advocating for additional Benches, quickly spiraled into chaos. The Court’s decision to issue contempt notices to those involved in the violence underscores the principle that lawyers, as officers of the court, bear a responsibility to maintain decorum within the legal system.

Upholding Court Orders

The incident in Odisha also brings into focus the importance of adhering to court orders. Despite a clear warning from the Supreme Court in 2022, lawyers persisted with their strike, leading to a substantial loss of judicial working hours. This disobedience not only disrupts the justice delivery system but also inconveniences countless litigants who rely on timely resolution of their cases.

A Reminder of Responsibility

The Supreme Court’s unwavering commitment to upholding the sanctity of the judicial process serves as a reminder to all stakeholders in the legal profession—lawyers, bar associations, and the courts themselves—of their responsibility to ensure the efficient and uninterrupted functioning of the judicial system.

The recent developments in Odisha’s legal landscape underscore the critical need for a well-functioning judiciary that operates without interruption. While the legal community may face challenges and losses, the ultimate duty is to deliver justice promptly and efficiently. The matter is scheduled for its next hearing on November 07, 2023. 

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