Friday, December 13, 2019

J & K high court issue contempt notice over lawyer’s strike

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court recently castigated lawyers reported to have actively obstructed litigants and other lawyers from accessing District courts and the High Court by blocking gates, pursuant to an indefinite strike. Taking critical note of the same, the Court observed,
"Despite the mandate of the law laid down by the Supreme Court, open threats are yielded by unruly elements in the Bar that the Bar Association is a strong one and lawyers would be removed from its  membership if they chose to oppose the strike call or appear in courts. The entire justice dispensation system in Jammu has been held to ransom ....
In view of the afore noted pronouncements of the Supreme Court reported in (2003) 2 SCC 45 titled Ex. Capt. Harish Uppal vs. Union of India &Anr;(2017) 5 SCC 702 Hussain &Anr. vs. Union of India, & Ors. and 2018 SCC Online 304, Krishnakant Tamrakar vs. State of M.P, the mere call for meeting, or the very decision to proceed on strike; remaining absent from court and boycott of judicial proceedings; locking the courts, preventing entry to those wanting to enter are completely illegal rendering all persons responsible for the same for appropriate action as mandated by the Supreme Court of India. "
On Wednesday, the Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal also asked four advocates, S Baldev Singh, Nitin Bakshi, Azhar Usman Khan and Mahinder Singh Palli to explain why they should not be held liable for criminal contempt, after being informed that they were spearheading the protestors and enforcing the closure of gates to courts. The order passed notes that,
"Their arrogance is to the extent that they actually put a lock on the main gate and removed its key which was kept in their custody ... [the] Conduct of these advocates of locking the District courts and preventing the litigants in civil cases, under trials and lawyers from accessing the courts is a very serious matter and cannot be ignored...
... This conduct tantamounts to criminal contempt of court in terms of the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India."
The Bench was acting on various reports received from the Court Registry and the District and Sessions Judge, Jammu.
Following a indefinite strike called by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, it was informed that the main entrance gate of the  District Courts building complex in Jammu was blocked on November 4. Similar obstruction was posed in the following days as well, despite personal intervention by the  Principal District Judge.
On November 6, the striking lawyers had also started physically checking identity cards of those who wanted to enter into the Court building, it was informed.  Similar difficulties continued in the following dates. The High Court was unequivocal in castigating the conduct of the lawyers during the strike, remarking that,
"As a result of the locking of the main gate from 4th November, 2019, these striking lawyers have actually pushed back the criminal justice system in the District Courts, Jammu irretrievably. They have also caused multiplication of the work of the Court, court officials and the police authorities who shall have to use valuable resources and time in attempting to serve those accused persons whose cases were listed on the days the main door of the court was locked and their entry prevented ... cases which are time bound are also being adjourned."
The Court also took note that the striking lawyers attempted to carry out similar obstruction in the High Court as well,
"... an effort to similarly obstruct lawyers and litigants even in the High Court was unsuccessfully attempted by shifting sofas, which are court property, from their assigned places, to be used as barricades at access points within the court. We are informed that these sofas could not be used to completely prevent litigants. However, active measures were attempted to completely obstruct willing lawyers from appearing in the Court." 
The High Court proceeded to detail how such behaviour is contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court, starting with the ruling in Ex. Capt. Harish Uppal vs. Union of India & Anr, wherein int was declared that it is only “in the rarest of rare cases”, “where the dignity, integrity and independence of the Bar and/or the Bench are at stake that courts may ignore a strike. In that case, the Supreme Court had held that even when a strike is called for, it cannot exceed one day and further, that it cannot be forced on other lawyers and litigants. In this backdrop, the Court highlighted,
:... a lawyer obstructing or preventing another lawyer from appearing in the court commits a criminal offence. His act tantamounts to interference with the administration of justice and by his obstruction he has also committed contempt of court. Such lawyer has rendered himself liable to be proceeded against for both."
The Bench also took note that such strikes are being carried out in violation of Rule 4 of the  Jammu and Kashmir Advocates (Regulation of Practice in the High Court and Subordinate Courts) Rules, 2003.
"Unfortunately, these rules have remained in the rule book without being worked or applied in the event of contraventions. The result is the terrible situation that we are faced with today," the order states. 
Notably, the Court also intimated that action would be taken against Senior Advocates found to who have encouraged strike calls, including withdrawal of Senior designation. The Bench observed,
"Senior advocates are expected to lead the younger members of the Bar by example, so far as following law is concerned. Therefore, use of social media to incite young advocates and members of the Bar into abstaining from work; boycotting court(s); leading sloganeering within the premises of the Court; locking courts etc. by any senior counsel would not be acceptable conduct from persons who have been honored by the High Court in awarding them the special status of senior advocates."
Interestingly, the Bench also observed that frequent condolence references were also adding to prolonging court proceedings. In this regard, the order states,
"The practice in this court of holding repeated condonence references would therefore be contrary to the mandate of the directions of the Supreme Court of India.  We find that full court references are held in this court irrespective of whether the lawyer who has demised ever practised in the High Court or did not have an active practice in this court. Our oral missives on this count have evoked no response."
The Court concluding on a hopeful note that  good sense and conscience of the members of the Bar would prevail and they would conduct themselves in accordance with law ensuring  the rights of the public guaranteed under the Constitution.
However, in view of the unpardonable and contumacious conduct of the striking advocates in obstructed court access, the High Court has asked the four named advocates to respond in two weeks why action should not be taken against them for criminal contempt. Further, it has also been queried why they should not be proceeded against under the Jammu and Kashmir Advocates (Regulation of Practice in the High Court and Subordinate Courts) Rules, 2003 and provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
Further, the Court has also directed the production of up-to-date reports regarding the obstructions to court access, as well as CCTV footage and photographs on the same.
The Registrar of IT has been directed to collect postings on social media inciting violence/abstention from work by advocates. A report on the same is to be place before the Court.  Additionally, the Registrar General has been directed to circulate all judgments referred to in the High Court order on the mandate against court strikes to  all Bar Associations Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, and to all Principal District & Sessions Judges for compliance.

No comments:

Post a Comment