Nobody has the right to boycott courts, rules SC
Lawyers going on strike and boycotting the courts cannot be justified in the guise of freedom of speech and expression, particularly when the judiciary is facing a serious backlog of cases, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday after noting that advocates in three districts of Uttarakhand had been boycotting the courts on all Saturdays for the past 35 years.
The apex court upheld a decision of the Uttarakhand high court, which ordered the Uttarakhand State Bar Council to initiate action against office bearers of various district bar associations in the state that had called for a strike or boycott of the courts on Saturdays.
“To go on strike/boycott courts cannot be justified under the guise of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Nobody has the right to go on strike/boycott courts. Even such a right, if any, cannot affect the rights of others and more particularly, the right of speedy justice guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution”, the court said.
The Supreme Court also lamented that despite various judgments by the top court holding strikes by lawyers to be illegal, bar associations were still resorting to strikes which the court said amounted to contempt of court.
“It appears that despite the strong words used by this Court in the aforesaid decisions, criticizing the conduct on the part of the lawyers to go on strikes, it appears that the message has not reached”, the court said,
The Supreme Court issued notice to the Bar Council of India and all the state bar councils to suggest a further course of action and to make concrete suggestions to deal with strikes by lawyers.
The Uttarakhand high court had, in September 2019, held that the district bar associations of three districts, Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar should immediately withdraw their call for a strike, and start attending courts on all working Saturdays.
The order was passed in a public interest litigation petition which had pointed out that advocates had been boycotting courts on all Saturdays for the past more than 35 years, in the entire district of Dehradun, and in several parts of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar districts.
The high court had also ordered disciplinary action against erring office bearers of bar associations besides ordering district judges to ensure that courts function on Saturdays.
Interestingly, the high court had noted that the genesis of this peculiar form of protest was traceable to western Uttar Pradesh, of which the above districts were part , before the state of Uttarakhand was created in 2000. Advocates from western Uttar Pradesh have been on strike on all Saturdays for the past three-and-a-half decades, in pursuit of their demand that a high court bench be established in that region.