The Supreme Court on Monday frowned upon protests and court boycotts held by lawyers of district bar associations in western Odisha who are demanding a permanent bench of the Orissa High Court at Sambalpur. (PLR Projects Pvt Ltd v. Mahanadi Coalfields)
A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and AS Oka noted that access to justice is a fundamental aspect of our legal system, and that the same was being impeded by boycotting lawyers.
When a counsel for a lawyer who was placed under suspension by the Bar Council of India (BCI) sought a stay on the suspension until the next date of hearing, Justice Kaul warned,
“That is out of the question. We want more suspensions…I am telling you, we will take away your source of income. You are making the public suffer…All licences will be suspended if the boycott is not over by day after.”
“Junior Bar members also suffer if they differ on [the call for] boycott,” Justice Oka weighed in.
The Court was hearing an application concerning the protests by lawyers in the State since September 28.
As per a report in the New Indian Express, members of the Sambalpur District Bar Association had ceased work since November 2, paralysing the functioning of lower courts as well as government offices.
The lawyers had announced that they would do so every Wednesday till their demand is met.
In its order, the Court noted that the High Court’s Chief Justice had organised back-to-back meetings in this regard, but the bar associations did not participate in the same.
This has led to about 2,416 working hours being lost across courts, with the ‘lawyers bringing judicial work to a standstill in the State, making the litigating public suffer,’ the Bench noted.
While appreciating the steps taken by the BCI to suspend the licenses of office-bearers of five district bar associations, the Court noted that more steps would be needed if the protesters do not fall in line.
“We expect full working by day after tomorrow.”
The order notes that with respect to the need to set up new benches, the ground situation had changed in view of the increased adoption of technology.
“We ask the Orissa High Court to place a report in terms of enhancement of technology in district courts.”
The Court took note of an assurance by counsel for the Bhubaneswar Bar Association that it has and will not take part in the protests, and accordingly asked it to cooperate with authorities in ensuring that court work resumes.