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The Uttarakhand High Court has ruled that strikes and court boycotts by lawyers are illegal. The Bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Alok Verma has further warned that strict action would be taken against advocates who opt to participate in strikes. The Court held,
“Strike by lawyers is not an acceptable mode of protest, irrespective of the gravity of the provocation, and the genuineness of the cause. Lawyers can adopt other modes of protests which will not interrupt or disrupt court proceedings or adversely affects the interest of the litigant. Thereby lawyers can also set an example to other sections of society in the matter of protest and agitations…
…Lawyers cannot go to the streets, or go on strike, except when democracy itself is in danger, and the entire judicial system is at stake… If Advocates think they have a just cause for complaint, they have two courses open to them — to make a representation to the District Judge or to the High Court. Boycotting Court is high-handed and unjustified.“
The Court further added,
“Only in the rarest of rare cases, where the dignity, integrity and the independence of the Bar and/or the Bench are at stake, Courts may ignore (turn a blind eye) to a protest / abstention from work for not more than one day. It will be for the Court to decide whether or not the issue involves the dignity or integrity or independence of the Bar and/or the Bench. The President of the Bar must first consult the Chief Justice or the District Judge before advocates decide to absent themselves from Court. The decision of the Chief Justice or the District Judge would be final, and should be abided by the Bar.“
A comprehensive judgment on the issue was passed today in a PIL filed against unwarranted, unlawful and illegal strikes or abstention from work by lawyers in Uttarakhand. The plea had sought for the Court’s intervention so that the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Harish Uppal case was strictly complied with.
Advocate Kartikey Hari Gupta appeared for Mani Kumar, counsel for the petitioner in the case. The petitioner approached the High Court with this PIL after his case took 34 months to be dealt with by the High Court, on account of frequent lawyers’ strikes. This, despite a Supreme Court directive to decide the case within nine months.
The plea prompted the Court to observe that frequent lawyers’ strikes in the state were seriously obstructing access to justice to needy litigants and causing irreversible damage to the judicial system. It was also noted that the tax payers’ money was being wasted on account of loss of judicial time. In this regard, the Court also highlighted,
“The two wheels of the chariot, on which the administration of justice runs, are the Bench and the Bar. Since strike by Advocates, and boycott of courts by them, have a deleterious effect on the administration of justice, urgent steps need be taken to curb these illegal practices…
…The law declared by the Supreme Court is binding under Article 141 of the Constitution of India. The mere fact that there is no legislation (plenary or subordinate) prohibiting strikes/boycott of Courts by Advocates does not give them a license to resort to such illegal acts, and in violation of the law declared by the Supreme Court. As held by the Supreme Court, (in various judgments) there are other means by which Advocates can express their anguish/grievance, apart from strikes or boycott of Courts.“
In view of these concerns, the Bench proceeded to issue detailed orders to ensure that the general ban on lawyers’ strikes and court boycotts is strictly complied with.