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Supreme Court “strikes”; Issues contempt notice to Delhi Bar for court boycott
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Supreme Court “strikes”; Issues contempt notice to Delhi Bar for court boycott

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court today issued notice in a contempt petition filed by NGO Common Cause contending that Delhi lawyers were violating the directions in the 2002 judgment of Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India & Anr.

The petition, filed by NGO Common Cause, has impleaded the Delhi High Court Bar Association and the Delhi Co-ordination Committee of District Bar Association for holding strikes on the issue of pecuniary jurisdiction.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for Common Cause before a Division Bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Arun Mishra.

Facts: Two Bar, Two strikes

The recommendation to enhance the upper limit of the pecuniary jurisdiction of District courts was made by a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. The recommendation was that civil suits upto Rs. 2 crore should be heard by the District Courts instead of the Delhi High Court. Currently all suits above Rs. 20 lakh are heard by the High Court.

This was accepted by the then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit who forwarded it to the Centre for further action.

The Central government listed the Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill, 2015 in Lok Sabha for the monsoon session whereupon the Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA) called for abstinence of work. They demanded that the Commercial Courts Bill, 2015, which calls for the creation of dedicated courts for commercial cases at the trial court and High Court levels, and fixes the pecuniary jurisdiction of all High Courts in commercial cases, should be tabled along with the Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill.

Initially, the call for strike was for two days. Subsequently, the DHCBA issued a circular on its website declaring total abstinence from work and also issued a list of proxy counsels for each court. No other person other than the proxy counsel would be allowed to appear before the courts.

Further, all the District Court Bar Associations also called for a complete abstinence of work until the Lok Sabha passed the Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill, 2015.

Petitioner’s contention

The petitioner has relied on the judgment in Harish Uppal’s case wherein the Court had held the following:

In conclusion it is held that lawyers have no right to go on strike or give a call for boycott, not even on a token strike. The protest, if any is required, can only be by giving press statements, TV interviews, carrying out of Court premises banners and/or placards, wearing black or white or any colour arm bands, peaceful protest marches outside and away from Court premises, going on dharnas or relay fasts etc. 

All lawyers must boldly refuse to abide by any call for strike or boycott. No lawyer can be visited with any adverse consequences by the Association or the Council and no threat or coercion of any nature including that of expulsion can be held out.

The petitioner has alleged that during the time when the DHCBA had sought abstinence from working, several lawyers who tried to appear in court  were ill-treated and manhandled by some members of the DHCBA. The petitioner has also alleged that some DHCBA members assembled on the entrance doors of the High Court premises and did not allow the lawyers interested in performing their professional duties to enter the premises till all the cases in the courts were adjourned.

Prayer by the petitioner

Common Cause argues that these acts bring ill repute to the legal profession, and such strikes were a clear case of contempt of court.

The petitioner has also prayed for a direction to be issued to the Bar Council of India “to incorporate appropriate rule prohibiting the use of strike by advocates in the “Standards for Professional Conduct and Etiquette” framed under Section 49(1)(c) of the Advocates Act, 1961.”

The case will now be taken up on October 9.

Image taken from here