“Only in rarest of rare cases where the dignity, integrity and independence of the Bar and/or the Bench are at stake, the courts may ignore (turn a blind eye) to a protest abstention [from lawyers] from the work for not more than one day.”
This was the verdict given by the Supreme Court's Constitution Bench a decade ago while declaring that lawyers have “no right” to go on strike or to give call for boycott, not even on a token strike.
However, the court allowed lawyers to resort to other forms of agitation like wearing armbands, putting up banners/placards and taking out marches away from courts, holding dharna, relay fast, etc.
However, this order of the Supreme Court has been “flagrantly violated” across the State following a resolution passed by the Advocates' Association, Bangalore, after the violence that took place at the City Civil Court complex here on March 2.
Initially, the call was for a day's boycott to protest against the “one-sided” coverage of the incident by a section of the media and alleged police brutality on advocates, but later the boycott turned indefinite as the State government did not heed to the association's demands: transfer of the City Police Commissioner and the State police chief, and resignation of the Home and Law Ministers.
The result: no effective proceedings have taken place in courts across the State, except in the High Court, since March 6, affecting thousands of litigants.
A senior counsel pointed out that the Supreme Court had also made it clear that lawyers holding vakalats on behalf of their clients cannot abstain from courts in pursuance to a call for strike or boycott, and the boycott was “flagrant violation” of law by the legal community.
The Supreme Court had also said: “All lawyers must boldly refuse to abide by any call for strike or boycott. No lawyer can be visited with any adverse consequence by the association or the council and no threat or coercion of any nature, including that of expulsion, can be held out. No Bar Council or Bar Association can permit calling of a meeting for purposes of considering a call for strike or boycott and requisition….”
To a query on this legal position, AAB president K.N. Subba Reddy said, “It has become difficult to convince a large number of association members to withdraw the boycott call, though he was personally not in favour of continuing it for more than one day.” When contacted, the former Advocate-General R.N. Narasimha Murthy said: “Lawyers must fight legally against the injustice done to them either by the media or the police, and should not boycott courts. Lawyers, mediapersons and police personnel, responsible for the violence should be punished as per law.”
“What the courts have done to the lawyers to boycott the proceedings? Ultimately this issue is causing hardship to helpless litigants and affecting process of administration of justice. If the association president is against the boycott and there are no takers for his view, then he should quit,” Mr. Murthy added.
Another senior counsel said that the apex court had said, “…by any standard, professionals belonging to noble profession [law], who are considered to be intelligent class, cannot have any justification for remaining absent [through boycott] from their duty.”
Keywords: Karnataka lawyers strike