Cuttack: Taking suo motu cognizance of ‘cessation of court work’ through a prolonged strike by lawyers in some parts of the state, a 14-judge bench of the Orissa high court on Tuesday issued notices to 67 subordinate court bar associations in 16 districts on why ‘steps should not be taken’ against them for violation of Supreme Court guidelines (on how advocates should protest in case of grievances).
This is the first time in the history of the high court that a bench comprising all the judges sat together to adjudicate on a case.
The court also issued notices to the Orissa High Court Bar Association, the Bar Council of Odisha and the Bar Council of India on the issue of ‘obstructing the administration of justice’ because of the ‘continuous strike’ by lawyers. Notices were issued to the chief secretary, principal secretary (home) and principal secretary (law) of the state.
The bench headed by chief justice K S Jhaveri and comprising all other sitting judges issued the notices and fixed October 21 as the next date of hearing in the matter.
According to the order, a copy of which is in possession of TOI, cognisance of the matter was taken up after the registrar general of the high court registered a suo motu contempt case on the basis of reports received from district judges and the registry of the high court.
“In view of the continuous strike and cessation of court work by the bar members in some parts of the state, including the high court, thereby obstructing the administration of justice, and in view of the number of decisions of the Supreme Court on this issue, the matter is required to be considered in judicial side,” the registrar general stated to the 14-judge bench.
On being contacted by TOI, the Orissa High Court Bar Association president Gopal Krushna Mohanty said, “There is no cause of action to initiate any contempt proceeding against us. Besides, we have been served just a copy of the order. No material indicating any allegation against has been provided. However, we will give our reply on October 21.”
The high court bar association started boycotting court work on Monday in protest against the resolution passed by the Supreme Court collegium on October 3 on appointment of judges of the high court.
In its resolution, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended the elevation of advocate Sanjeeb Kumar Panigrahi and district and sessions judge Bibhu Prasad Routray. Panigrahi is an advocate on Record of Supreme Court and Routray is currently posted as the district and sessions judge in Berhampur. The two names were among the 12 recommended to the collegium by chief justice Jhaveri Jhaveri on May 7.
The association, in a representation to the law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, alleged that the Supreme Court had ‘recommended the name of Sanjeeb Panigrahi, who is practising in Delhi and has very few briefs in the high court of Orissa’. The association alleged that ‘the recommendation has been influenced by a big corporate house’.
Besides, many bar associations in the state have been boycotting court work on and off seeking high court benches in their regions.
The court expected replies to the notices in terms of guidelines framed in the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the Ex-Captain Harish Uppal Vs Union of India case delivered on December 17, 2002. “It is held that lawyers have no right to go on strike or give a call for boycott, not even on a token strike. The protest, if any, can only be by giving press statements, TV interviews, carrying out of court premises banners and/or placards, wearing black or white or any colour arm bands, peaceful protest marches outside and away from court premises, going on dharnas or relay fasts etc,” the judgment had specified.
“It is held that only in the rarest of rare cases where the dignity, integrity and independence of the bar and/or the bench are at stake, courts may ignore (turn a blind eye) to a protest abstention from work for not more than one day. It is being clarified that it will be for the court to decide whether or not the issue involves dignity or integrity or independence of the bar and/or the bench. Therefore in such cases the president of the bar must first consult the chief justice or the district judge before advocates decide to absent themselves from court,” the judgment had clarified.
Notices issued were to the Orissa High Court Bar Association and 67 subordinate court bar associations in the districts of Sambalpur, Balangir, Jharsuguda, Subarnapur, Deogarh, Bargarh, Nabarangpur, Boudh, Sundargarh, Kalahandi, Gajapati, Koraput, Rayagada, Ganjam, Mayurbhanj and Khurda