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In the midst of the ongoing boycott at the Orissa High Court, the Supreme Court on Thursday opined that there was little doubt that the conduct of the lawyers amounted to contempt of court.
The order states,
“We have a little doubt that conduct of the lawyers really falls within the domain of contempt.”
The Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph said that the ongoing boycott hampered access to justice of the litigants. The Court said,
“We will expect the courts to perform their task to the best of their abilities even if lawyers refuse to assist the courts. The litigants cannot be without access to justice and one wonders if an alternative would have to be explored in adjacent states for access to justice, if the advocates continue to be on strike.”
The Court has sought the personal presence of the Chairman of the Orissa State Bar Council as well as the President of the Orissa High Court Bar Association on the next date of hearing. The Court also issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) and sought its response on the steps taken by it against the lawyers.
“We would specifically desire the Bar Council of India to inform us as to what steps they propose to take in respect of the conduct of the advocates who have violated the directions of this Court as enunciated in the aforesaid judgments.”
Counsel representing the State of Orissa, Sibo Sankar Misra, also informed the Court that the Coordination Committee headed by the President of the Orissa High Court Bar Association resolved to suspend him from the Association. Further, the Association has sought proceedings against him by the State Bar Council, and to have him removed from the panel of lawyers for the state government.
This conduct by the Committee, the Court noted, “amounts to interfering with the proceedings of this court.” The Court will also consider the action to be taken in this regard on the next date of hearing.
While staying resolutions passed in this regard, the Bench prohibited the lawyers’ bodies in the state from taking any action against Misra in the future.
The functioning in practically all courts in all districts has come to a standstill, the Court was informed during the hearing on Thursday. Police protection, security, and assistance have also been made available to ensure that no untoward incidence takes place.
As regards the main issue in the petition – that lawyers are not being allowed to represent their clients in the courts of the Chief Justice and the two senior most judges – the Court called for protection to be given to such lawyers.
“It will be open for the counsel to appear or the party going to appear in advance intimate the Registrar for making specific security arrangements for their presence and the police department of the State Government will also render full assistance in this behalf.”
Attorney General for India KK Venugopal, who was assisting the Court in the matter, has been asked to continue assisting the Court on the next date of hearing, fixed on November 8.
Lawyers in the state of Orissa first went on strike in April this year, when the Orissa High Court Bar Association passed a resolution registering its protest against certain recommendations made by the High Court Collegium for elevation to the High Court. The lawyers protested the recommendation to elevate lawyers who are not regular practitioners before the High Court as judges.
More recently, the Orissa High Court Bar Association resolved to boycott the courts of the High Court Collegium judges after the Supreme Court Collegium recommended the appointments of judicial officer Bibhu Prasad Routray and Advocate Sanjeeb Kumar Panigrahi as judges of the Orissa High Court.
In view of the “continuous strikes” over the past six months, the Orissa High Court earlier in October initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against 68 bar associations, including the High Court Bar Association. In light of this, the petitioner company had sought a transfer of its case from Orissa High Court to Telangana or any other High Court in the country.
Last week, the Supreme Court asked the Registrar of the Orissa High Court to submit a report detailing the measures taken to allow access to lawyers who are willing to appear before the court of Chief Justice KS Jhaveri.
The order was passed in a transfer petition filed by a litigant company whose case is pending before the court of Orissa High Court Chief Justice Jhaveri.
[Read the order]