Ending the Bar-Bench conflict

Once again, >lawyers are up in arms in Tamil Nadu. This time their protest is directed against a set of new rules aimed at disbarring advocates for a whole range of actions amounting to misconduct. The amendments notified by the Madras High Court empower High Court judges and principal district judges to debar advocates who browbeat judges, lay siege to court halls, tamper with records, spread unsubstantiated allegations against judges or accept money in their names or on the pretext of influencing them. With protests erupting across the State, all judicial work in lower courts has come to a standstill. It is in this context that the Full Court’s resolution constituting a committee of five judges to look into the new rules afresh and keeping them in abeyance must be welcomed. The court’s decision, reiterated during subsequent judicial proceedings of Chief Justice S.K. Kaul, must logically have given a quietus to the issue. It is unfortunate that the Joint Action Committee spearheading the protests is continuing with its agitation. The Bar-Bench conflict came to a head when lawyers tried to lay siege to the High Court. The >Bar Council of India suspended 126 advocates.

Advocates may nurse a genuine apprehension that a couple of clauses, such as the one relating to the “browbeating” of judges or “spreading unsubstantiated allegations”, are essentially subjective and liable to varying interpretations. As in the infamous “scandalising the court” provision in our contempt law, there is a case for demanding that such general expressions give way to a more rigorous definition of misconduct. Further, rules that commit advocates to silence are better avoided, as they have a duty to expose wrongdoing and raise their voice in support of the integrity of the judicial process and the independence and dignity of the legal profession. At the same time, what should not be lost sight of is that there is a specific context in which the rules were notified. The lawyer community in Tamil Nadu is seen to have organised too many protests in recent years and resisted all attempts to bring about discipline among them. There have been frequent unruly scenes in courts, and allegations against individual judges have been bandied about. Moreover, elected Bar representatives were also part of the process by which the new rules were framed. If the advocates want them changed, it is only fair that they approach the committee for redress. Beyond the cause the Bar espouses and the discipline the Bench seeks to enforce, there is another interest they cannot afford to ignore: that of the litigant public.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 2:57:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Ending-the-Bar-Bench-conflict/article14513316.ece

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