Mumbai lawyers strike work over Law Commission’s recommendations
But legal experts remain divided on the merits of the Law Commission’s recommendations.mumbai Updated: Apr 01, 2017 00:46 IST
On Friday, a section of Bombay high court lawyers went on strike, supporting the decision of the Advocates Association of Western India (AAWI) to join lawyers from across the country protesting against a recent Law Commission report to amend the Advocates Act.
But legal experts remain divided on the merits of the report.
The Law Commission’s 267th report, based on the direction of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, recommended an overhaul — more than 30 amendments to the Advocates Act that would make the rules governing lawyers’ everyday conduct more stringent, clamp down on their right to strike work, weed out misconduct and provide for binding disqualification from state rolls in cases of misconduct (see box for details).
The report also recommends the lawyers be denied a right to strike work and that if compelling conditions exist, then they be allowed just a token strike of a single day on the condition that it is approved by the Bar Council of India.
The suggestion was made to prevent a large number of working days being lost in courts, stated the report.
But most lawyers feel the recommendations are hurried, and that the commission should have at least consulted with the Bar Associations of the various high courts in the country before coming out with their report.
AAWI president, advocate Rajiv Chavan, who led a meeting of “over 600 advocates from the Bombay and Goa benches of the Bombay high court on Thursday to take the unanimous decision to join Friday’s strike” called the report “absolutely undemocratic.” “The report redefines misconduct but the definition is so wide and stringent that no lawyer will be able to practice law anymore,” Chavan said.
The report defines professional misconduct as any “act of an advocate whose conduct is found to be in breach of, or non-observance of the standard of professional conduct or etiquette required to be observed” by him or her.
Senior advocate Rajendra Shirodkar followed the AAWI’s decision to join the strike and decided not to appear in court despite having pending cases.
He said, “The issue has been under a prolonged litigation before the Supreme Court and various judgments of the Apex Court exist on the issue. Unless it lays down some specific rules or guidelines prohibiting us from striking work, or regulating the same, no one can object to it,” Shirodkar said.
Retired Supreme Court judge, Justice BN Shrikrishna, however, believes considering the existing pendency in courts across the country, the “lawyers and the BCI have no business to strike work and waste time of the judiciary”, especially when the legal process in the country is extremely slow.
The Law Commission report and its draft of advocate (amendment) bill, 2017, stem from an order of the Apex Court passed in July 2016 seeking suggestions to amend the Advocates Act.
Some of the proposed changes:
Lawyers’ strike: The report says that unless there exists “compelling circumstances” lawyers cant strike work.
Fake Lawyers and verification: BCI should make stringent rules for verification of certificates of, place of practice of advocates, etc.
Pre-enrolment training for lawyers: The commission recommends making it mandatory for all advocates to undergo a pre-enrollment training for a year
Entrance test: Entrance tests to be made compulsory for admission to any law college across the country
Defining ‘misconduct’: While the existing Act does not define misconduct, the report recommends defining misconduct “an act of an advocate whose conduct is found to be in breach of or non- observance of the standard of professional conduct or etiquette required to be observed by the advocate”.
Disciplinary committee: The report recommends a complete overhaul in appointing a disciplinary body and says that the bar council must constitute a committee that comprises five members: two elected by the council from among its members; two eminent persons from fields other than law; and one person nominated by the high court
Definition of an ‘advocate’:Expands the definition of an advocate to include a lawyer working in a law firm and also those working with foreign law firms.