Appellate court warns of contempt proceedings against Odisha lawyers who are striking

A Supreme Court bench on Monday ordered the striking members of several Odisha bar associations to resume work by November 16. Failure to do so could result in contempt proceedings or the suspension of their licenses.

A bench of the Orissa High Court was hearing an application filed by the Registrar General stating that the abstention of members of the bar associations in several districts has seriously impacted the work of all subordinate courts in the state.

Justices S K Kaul and A S Oka expressed displeasure with the abstention, stating the legal system is built upon the right to access justice.

All bar associations there are expected to complete their work by Wednesday, and if they do not, they may be held in contempt of court and their licenses may be suspended or revoked.

According to the bench, if the abstention continues, it will fall heavily on the lawyers, and it will not hesitate to suspend them even if the number reaches 100 or 200.

It is the legal fraternity that serves as a vehicle for people at large to seek justice, and when they abstain from court proceedings, their access to justice is jeopardized. Ultimately the people suffer, according to the court.

The bench stated, “This will not be tolerated,” adding, “The public cannot be treated in such a manner.” At the end of the day, they are the sufferers.” According to the Orissa High Court Registrar General, based on information provided by the concerned district judges, the reasons for such abstentions include: “(demanding) the establishment of a permanent bench of the Orissa High Court (in Samabalpur), the loss of advocates, requesting the establishment of a court, the Bharat Bandh, flooding, and scorching heat.”

According to the top court, the Bar Council of India (BCI) Chairman’s order dated November 13 directed that officers and members of five bar associations in Odisha shall not discharge any functions of their respective offices until further orders are issued. According to the BCI Chairman’s order, if the strike/boycott is not recalled by tomorrow, individual lawyers participating in the boycott/abstention will have their licenses suspended immediately.

According to the bench, the Supreme Court had issued an order in February 2020 and all district bar associations in Odisha agreed to resume their work on that date.

Based on the application filed before it, the court noted that members of the bar associations, not only in Western Odisha but also in other districts of the state, had on several occasions failed to participate in the regular court proceedings.

According to the application, the statistics for the period between January 1, 2022 and September 30, this year showed that 2,14,176 cumulative judicial working hours were lost in the subordinate courts during this period.

Despite appreciating the steps the BCI chairman took, the apex court said other associations would also need to be addressed if they “do not fall in line with its direction”.

According to the bench, the BCI may proceed with similar action against the office bearers of all the bar associations unless they return to full work by the day after tomorrow.

In light of the changes in ground reality and the introduction of technology in the court system, it expects the high court to place a status report regarding computerization in the district judiciary.

Earlier this month, the bench heard the matter again.

Attorneys practising in district courts and their respective bar associations are bound by the assurances and undertakings they provide to the Supreme Court.

As a result, the court has asked the concerned district bar associations to give an explanation as to why they have not complied with the assurances given by them to the top court.

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