Boycott Of Courts Can’t Be Justified As Freedom Of Speech & Expression : SC On Lawyers’ Strikes

The Supreme Court on Friday came down heavily on the advocates in the districts of Dehradun, Hardwar and Udham Singh Nagar in the State of Uttarakhand for holding strike by boycotting courts.

The SC also noted that despite directions in precedents such as Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India, lawyers’ strikes were happening. In this backdrop, suo moto notices were issued to the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils to suggest the further course of action and to give concrete suggestions to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining the work by the lawyers.

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah categorically held that boycott of courts by advocates was illegal, and cannot be justified as an exercise of right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

“To go on strike/boycott courts cannot be justified under the guise of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Nobody has the right to go on strike/boycott courts. Even, such a right, if any, cannot affect the rights of others and more particularly, the right of Speedy Justice guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution”, the Court observed.

The Court was considering an appeal filed by the District Bar Association, Dehradun against the judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court delivered on September 25 last year which held such strikes to be illegal. The HC had noted that the lawyers had been boycotting courts on Saturdays for past 35 years.The HC had also directed action against advocates for abstaining from work on court days.

Before the SC, the Association submitted that the strike is a mode of peaceful representation to express the grievances by the lawyers’ community in the absence of other forum for the same.

Rejecting this submission, the SC observed that the every month on 3-4 Saturdays, the Advocates were on strike on one pretext or the other. The data relied on by the HC showed that in Dehradun district, the Advocates were on strike for 455 days (on an average 91 days per year) and in Haridwar district it is 515 days (about 103 days per year). This was termed as “shocking” by the top court.

“In spite of the law laid down by this Court in the aforesaid decisions, this Court time and again deprecated the lawyers to go on strikes, the strikes were continued unabated”, the bench observed.

It was further said :

“If the lawyers would have worked on those days, it would have been in the larger interest and it would have achieved the ultimate goal of speedy justice, which is now recognized as a fundamental right under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. It would have helped in early disposal of the criminal trials and therefore it would have been in the interest of those who are languishing in the jail and waiting for their trial to conclude. When the Institution is facing a serious problem of arrears and delay in disposal of cases, how the Institution as a whole can afford such four days strike in a month”.

Direction to BCI and State Bar Council

The Court observed that in spite of the decisions in the cases of Ex-Capt Harish Uppal, Common Cause, A Registered Society, and Krishnakant Namrakar and despite the warnings by the courts time and again, lawyers strikes continued to happen.

“It appears that despite the strong words used by this Court in the aforesaid decisions, criticizing the conduct on the part of the lawyers to go on strikes, it appears that the message has not reached. Even despite the resolution of the Bar Council of India dated 29.09.2002, thereafter, no further concrete steps are taken even by the Bar Council of India and/or other Bar Councils of the States.

A day has now come for the Bar Council of India and the Bar Councils of the States to step in and to take concrete steps. It is the duty of the Bar Councils to ensure that there is no unprofessional and unbecoming conduct by any lawyer”.

Therefore, it was ordered in the end as follows :

“..taking a serious note of the fact that despite the aforesaid decisions of this Court, still the lawyers/Bar Associations go on strikes, we take suo moto cognizance and issue notices to the Bar Council of India and all the State Bar Councils to suggest the further course of action and to give concrete suggestions to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining the work by the lawyers. The Notices may be made returnable within six weeks from today. The Registry is directed to issue the notices to the Bar Council of India and all the State Bar Councils accordingly”.

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