Lawyers Cannot Resort to Strikes, Says SC

Lawyers like Doctors cannot strike their work. Both professions are guided by morality and missionary spirit. It has been aptly said that ‘we are the slaves of law, so that we might be free’. Credibility and reputation of the legal profession depends upon the manner in which the members of the profession conduct themselves.
In a recent case of ‘Hussain and Anr. vs Union of India’, the Supreme Court has said that ‘obstruction of proceedings by lawyers’ strikes is uncalled for. Suspension of work or strikes are clearly illegal and it is high time that the legal fraternity realized its duty to the society. Hardship faced by witnesses if their evidence is not recorded on the day they are summoned or the impact of delay on under trials in custody on account of such avoidable interruptions of court proceedings is a matter of concern’
The mission of legal profession cannot be achieved if the litigant who is waiting in the queue does not get his/her turn for a long time. The concept of speedy justice gets beating when the cases of under trials are dealt with inexcusable insensitivity. There are obstructions at different levels in the path of speedy trials because vested interests and unscrupulous elements try to delay the proceedings. Lack of infrastructure is another handicap. But despite all odds, determined efforts are required for success of the mission. Presiding Officer of a court cannot rest in the state of helplessness.
Nowadays we witness strikes by lawyers and even doctors at the drop of hat. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in ‘Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal vs Union of India & Anr’ in 2002 had taken a very strong view on the frequent strikes of the lawyers in different courts of the country. Deprecating the strike calls,the Court said that ‘no political party or organization can claim that it is entitled to paralyse the industry and commerce in the entire state or nation and cannot prevent citizens from exercising their fundamental rights or from performing their duties’.
In the same breadth, the Court said that ‘if any counsel does not want to appear in a particular court, that too for justifiable reasons, the professional decorum and etiquette require him to give up his engagement in that court so that the party can engage another counsel. But retaining the brief of his client and at the same time abstaining from appearing in that court, that too not on any particular day on account of some personal inconvenience of the counsel, is unprofessional as also unbecoming of the status of an advocate. No Court is obliged to adjourn a cause because of the strike call given by any association of advocates or a decision to boycott the courts either in general or any particular court. It is the solemn duty of every court to proceed with the judicial business during court hours. No court should yield to pressure tactics or boycott calls or any kind of browbeating.
In yet another case of ‘Indian Council of Legal Aid and Advice v. Bar Council of India’ , the Supreme Court observed thus: ’it is generally believed that members of the legal profession have certain social obligations, e.g., to render “pro bono publico” service to the poor and the underprivileged. Since the duty of a lawyer is to assist the court in the administration of justice, the practice of law has a public utility flavour and, therefore, he must strictly and scrupulously abide by the Code of Conduct beholding the noble profession and must not indulge in any activity which may tend to lower the image of the profession in society’.
In Re: Sanjeev Datta, the Supreme Court stated that ‘the legal profession is a solemn and serious occupation and all those who belong to it are its honourable members. Although the entry to the profession can be had by acquiring merely the qualification of technical competence, the honour as a professional has to be maintained by its members by their exemplary conduct both in and outside the Court’. This is different from other professions in that what the lawyers do, affects not only an individual but the administration of justice which is the foundation of the civilised society. It must not be forgotten that the legal profession has always been held in high esteem and its members have played an enviable role in public life. The regard for the legal and judicial systems in this country is in no small measure due to the tireless role played by the stalwarts in the profession to strengthen them. They took their profession seriously and practiced it with dignity, deference and devotion. If the profession is to survive, the judicial system has to be vitalised. No service will be too small in making the system efficient, effective and credible.
In one case the Supreme Court directed the Advocate to return the fee of his client because he failed to appear in the Court because of the strike called by the Bar Association. The court further said, ‘nonetheless we put the profession to notice that in future the advocate would also be answerable for the consequence suffered by the party if the non-appearance was solely on the ground of a strike call. It is unjust and inequitable to cause the party alone to suffer for the self-imposed dereliction of duty of his advocate. The litigant who suffers entirely on account of his advocate’s non-appearance in court, has also the remedy to sue the advocate for damages but that remedy would remain unaffected by the course adopted in this case’. However, such direction can be passed only after affording an opportunity to the advocate. If he has any justifiable cause the court can certainly absolve him from such a liability. But the advocate cannot get absolved merely on the ground that he did not attend the court as he or his association was on a strike.’
The Late H. M. Seervai, a distinguished jurist has said that, ‘lawyers ought to know that at least as long as lawful redress is available to aggrieved lawyers, there is no justification for lawyers to join in an illegal conspiracy to commit a gross, criminal contempt of court, thereby striking at the heart of the liberty conferred on every person by our Constitution. Strike is an attempt to interfere with the administration of justice. The principle is that those who have duties to discharge in a court of justice are protected by the law and are shielded by the law to discharge those duties, the advocates in return have duty to protect the courts.’
A dispute between some lawyer/lawyers and police or other authorities can never be a reason for going on even a token strike. It can never justify giving a call for boycott. In such cases an adequate legal remedy is available and it must be resorted to. A protest on an issue involving dignity, integrity and independence of the Bar and judiciary, provided it does not exceed one day, may be overlooked by Courts, who may turn a blind eye for that one day.
The Supreme Court has made it clear in catena of cases that lawyers have no right at all to go on strike or give a call for boycott even for a token strike. The protest, if any is required, 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. It is held that lawyers holding Vakalats on behalf of their clients cannot not attend courts in pursuance to a call for strike or boycott.
Lawyers are the defenders of law, the dharma, but when they violate it with gay abandon then there is something terribly gone amiss. Therefore, they must fully know their dharma to be adhered.