Friday, May 6, 2011

Debarring lawyers in labour, family courts ‘prima facie unconstitutional'

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati on a petition challenging the provisions in the Industrial Disputes Act and the Family Courts Act debarring lawyers from appearing in industrial tribunal and family courts.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said that prima facie Section 36 (4) of the ID Act (which says a party to a dispute may be represented by a legal practitioner with the consent of the other parties to the proceedings and with the leave of the labour court, tribunal or national tribunal, as the case may be), debarring lawyers from appearing before the labour court/industrial tribunal, was unconstitutional being violative of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g).

“This is because industrial law has become so complex that a layman cannot possibly present his case properly before the labour court/industrial tribunal. Similarly, Section 13 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 debarring lawyers from appearing before family courts appears to us, prima facie, to be unconstitutional because family law has become so complex that an ordinary layman cannot possibly be expected to put up his/her case properly before the family courts. Hence to debar lawyers will really be denying justice to millions of people. We are expanding the scope of this special leave petition suo motu by adding the ground challenging the validity of Section 13 of the Family Courts Act.”

Nariman, amicus curiae
The Bench asked the Attorney-General to file his response. It asked senior advocate Fali Nariman to assist the court as amicus curiae.

In this case, Hygienic Foods challenged a judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court holding that a lawyer could not appear before a labour court/industrial tribunal under the ID Act without the consent of the workman and leave of the court in view of Section 36(4).

The Bench suo motu added for challenge Section 13 of the Family Courts Act. Further hearing is posted to July 12.

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