The Bar-Bench chasm

The increasingly strained relationship between advocates and judges, marked by incidents of vociferous protests by the former in court premises, shows the State judiciary in poor light.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:20 pm IST

Published - September 19, 2015 11:19 pm IST

"The order directed the police to put in place heavy security to prevent other advocates from entering the court hall during proceedings of the case." Picture shows advocates protesting in front of the Madras High Court in Chennai. Photo: V. Ganesan

"The order directed the police to put in place heavy security to prevent other advocates from entering the court hall during proceedings of the case." Picture shows advocates protesting in front of the Madras High Court in Chennai. Photo: V. Ganesan

The recent protests, rallies and dharnas staged by various sections of advocates against judges over various issues — both inside and outside the Madras High Court campus – are only another phase of the collision course with the judiciary that the lawyers have taken.

The protests staged by the advocates have not been received well by the judges as is evident with the action taken — be it initiating suo motu proceedings against advocates or directing the government to provide Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) cover, replacing the State police, to both High Court campuses in Chennai and Madurai.

It all started with an order passed by a single judge, which made wearing of helmets mandatory for two-wheeler riders across the State from July 1 this year. Soon after the order, there were various reactions from the advocate fraternity. Some preferred to challenge the order by impleading themselves in the case; a few others took out rallies in Madurai against the order. But what raised eyebrows in the legal fraternity were the pamphlets making unsubstantiated allegations against the judges.

The order of a Division Bench, which suo motu initiated the contempt proceedings against two advocates, stated that the advocates raised slogans against the judge concerned and also “raised false, frivolous and unsustainable defamatory” statements against almost all the judges, serving both at the Principal Bench at Chennai as well as the Madurai Bench of the High Court. The order also said that the advocates issued anonymous pamphlets in the name of some association, which it claimed was not in existence.

“It is open to challenge any order or judgement as per procedure known to law. However, resorting to illegal methods of conducting processions or any other improper activities would amount to contempt, which should be dealt with in accordance with law,” stated the strongly-worded order passed by the Bench. It also directed the police to put in place heavy security to prevent other advocates from entering the court hall during the proceedings of the case.

While it is open to interpretation on whether advocates can be allowed to enter a court hall where an in-camera hearing is in progress and there could be several other reasons behind the strained relationship between the advocates and the judges, the incident has no doubt put the image of the judiciary in bad light in the eyes of the general public.

Says noted advocate Nagasaila, “The views of the public are not uniform. For people who get information on issues only through the media, it might look as if all the actions of lawyers are unruly, but people who are at close ranks with lawyers feel that if advocates themselves could not get justice from the courts, they doubt their chances of getting justice.”

Though some advocates will assert their right to protest without indulging in violence, the posters, pamphlets and slogans — aimed at the judges without substantial documents — have the potential to influence the public and weaken the trust they have in the system.

Even as there can be no doubt on the advocates' right to stage a peaceful protest, whether raising slogans inside the chambers of the judges and on the corridors of the High Court buildings, disturbing business in the campus, is a topic which needs deep consultation.

The protest by advocates last week attempting to lay siege to a court hall and the slogans raised against certain judges making personal attacks only shows that there were more personal issues with the judges.

The order of the Division Bench, which was to hear the suo motu contempt proceedings against the two advocates, seeking heavy police protection to the judges, besides directing to arrange barricades in the corridor to restrict advocates from entering the court hall, is also a clear indication of the serious resistance the judges had to put up against the rising opposition from the advocates.

A sit-in dharna by another group of advocates earlier in the week, demanding Tamil as the official language of the court, is another incident in which the advocates have confronted the judges. The protestors, including two women advocates and two law college students, remained in the court with black cloths around their mouth and held placards during the entire day’s hearing, refusing to budge even during the lunch recess.

The First Bench, which suo motu initiated proceedings against the protestors after they refused to leave the court hall late in the evening, narrated the sequence of events in its order. It stated that one of the protestors was threatening to continue squatting in the Court till the demand for Tamil as the official language of the High Court was met.

Despite being told by the Court that their grievance in this regard cannot be redressed at the Madras High Court, the counselling had “no effect” and they continued to hold the placards, the order stated.

The concerned First Bench further noted that the protest on Monday last week was not the first time that the functioning of the High Court was disrupted, irrespective of whether the issue was connected with this Court. “There is also an unhealthy so-called practice of lawyers raising slogans and marching in the corridors,” the Chief Justice said, recalling other incidents when the advocates protested over the issue of detention of fishermen in Sri Lanka and the raising of slogans inside the court over the recommendation of certain names for elevation to High Court.

But another noticeable trend in the legal fraternity is the fact that several advocates’ associations have been inviting judges to preside over various functions almost every Saturday of the month, notwithstanding the growing perception of increasing gap between the advocates and the judges. But these functions are mostly organised by well-established associations with select judges.

The associations themselves are divided on various lines and so are judges. One could guess the chief guest of a given advocates’ association with great ease, citing various reasons.

Another noted advocate Sudha Ramalingam says, “We are divided on the bases of caste, creed, senior lawyer and junior lawyer, Madras lawyer and Madurai lawyer for various reasons. We are also not able to show one face and not justify one cause which we have taken up, every cause is advocated for and against by the Bar itself. So we are loosing credibility. A microscopic minority which is very vociferous has taken the law into their own hands.”

It may be a microscopic minority, which has confronted the judges on various fronts, but the fact remains that judicial proceedings in the court halls and the general mood in the corridors of the High Court are disturbed by the widening gap between a section of the advocates and the judges.

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