Bomb blast in Pakistan and earthquake in Nepal as grounds for lawyers’ strikes irk Supreme Court.

Strikes by advocates for “flimsy reasons”, like bomb blast in a Pakistan school and earthquake in Nepal, on all working Saturdays for more than the past 35 years in three districts of Uttarakhand has caught the attention of the Supreme Court which rapped them for resorting to such a “joke”.

The issue came to the notice of the apex court while it was hearing an appeal against the verdict of the Uttarakhand High Court which had held as “illegal” the strikes or boycotts of court work on all Saturdays by lawyers in Dehradun and in several parts of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar.

In its September 25, 2019 verdict, the high court had referred to the 266th report of the Law Commission, which had analyzed data on loss of working days on account of strikes by lawyers and had opined that it affects functioning of courts and contributes to the ever mounting pendency of cases.

As per information sent by the high court to the Law Commission with respect to Uttarakhand for 2012-2016, advocates were on strike for 455 days during this period in Dehradun district, followed by 515 days in Haridwar district.

Referring to the Law Commission’s report, the high court had noted that strikes by advocates or their abstinence from courts varied from local, national to international issues, having no relevance to the working of the courts, and were seldom for justifiable reasons.

“To mention a few, bomb blast in a Pakistan school, amendments to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, inter-state river water disputes, attack on/murder of an advocate, earthquake in Nepal, condoling the death of near relatives of advocates, expressing solidarity to advocates of other state bar associations, moral support to movements by social activists, heavy rains….and even for kavi-sammelans,” the high court had noted in its verdict.

The appeal against the high court’s verdict came up for hearing before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah on Thursday.

“This is happening everywhere in the country. This is a fit case to initiate suo motu contempt. How can bar association say that they will continue with the strike?” the bench remarked.

“Things have collapsed,” the bench said, adding, “The order (of high court) is fully justified”.

“We cannot permit things like this. Everybody is going on strike. Today, strike is going on in every part of the country. We should be very harsh now. How can you say that the bar will be on strike on every Saturday?” the bench said.

“You are doing a joke. Family member of advocate dies and the entire bar will go on strike? What is this,” the bench said while reserving its order on an appeal filed by a lawyers’ body of Dehradun.

The counsel appearing for the petitioner told the bench that strike has stopped in Dehradun district.

In its verdict, the high court had noted that “genesis of this peculiar form” of protest of boycotting work on Saturdays for over 35 years was traceable to western Uttar Pradesh, of which the aforesaid districts formed part of, before the state of Uttarakhand was created on November 9, 2000.

It had noted that advocates from western Uttar Pradesh have been on strike on all Saturdays for the past three and half decades in pursuit of their demand that a high court bench be established in the region.

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