Saturday, February 29, 2020

Protests can’t infringe rights of others: SC

 The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that one’s right to protest could not infringe upon the rights of others as it upheld the Uttarakhand high court verdict initiating stringent action against lawyers boycotting district court work for years.
Uttarakhand lawyers had moved the SC claiming that the HC verdict violated their fundamental right to free speech to go on strike court work to protest against issues concerning them. They said it was a mode of peaceful representation to express grievances of the lawyer community.

Rejecting the arguments, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah said, “Such a right to freedom of speech cannot be exercised at the cost of litigants and/or at the cost of the justice delivery system as a whole.”

“To go on strike or boycott courts cannot be justified under the guise of right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the SC bench said.

Advocates in the districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar have been boycotting court work on Saturdays for the past more than 35 years. The Law Commission had found that between 2012 and 2016, advocates were on strike for 455 days (average 91 days per year) in Dehradun district and 515 days (average 103 days per year) in Haridwar district.

A PIL against the strikes was entertained by the HC, which passed a series of directions on the line of law settled by the apex court banning strikes by lawyers. It also warned of contempt of court proceedings against errant advocates.

The bench also took suo motu cognisance of lawyers resorting to strikes in several parts of the country despite a series of judgments by the SC banning strikes by advocates. “We take suo moto cognisance and issue notices to Bar Council of India and all state bar councils to suggest further course of action and to give concrete suggestions to deal with the problem of strikes/abstaining from work by lawyers,” the bench said and sought responses from BCI and state councils within six weeks.

The court criticised the inaction of BCI and state councils against lawyers indulging in strikes. “The day has now come for the Bar Council of India and bar councils of states to step in and take concrete steps. It is the duty of bar councils to ensure that there is no unprofessional and unbecoming conduct by any lawyer,” it said.

Writing the judgment endorsing the steps taken by the HC against lawyers of three districts of Uttarakhand, Justice Shah said, “We direct all concerned and district bar associations to comply with the directions issued by the high court in its true spirit. It is directed that if it is found that there is any breach of any of the directions issued by the high court in the impugned judgment and order, a serious view shall be taken and the consequences shall follow, including punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act.”

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