The Madhya Pradesh High Court, Jabalpur Bench yesterday initiated a suo-motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with regard to the lawyers’ strike and directed the Advocates to attend to their court work forthwith.

The Court has warned of serious consequences including initiation of proceedings under the Contempt of Courts Act against the ones deliberately avoiding court proceedings.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Ravi Malimath and Justice Vishal Mishra directed, “All the advocates throughout the State of Madhya Pradesh are hereby directed to attend to their court work forthwith. They shall represent their clients in the respective cases before the respective courts forthwith … If any lawyer deliberately avoids to attend the court, it shall be presumed that there is disobedience of this order and he will be faced with serious consequences including initiation of proceedings for contempt of court under the Contempt of Courts Act.”

The Bench had initiated a suo moto PIL as a result of the communication by the Chairman of the State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh asking the entire lawyer community in the State to abstain from court work with effect from March 23, 2023.

By a letter dated March 20, 2023, the Chairman of the State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh addressed a communication to the Chief Justice to the effect that unless the scheme relating to the disposal of 25 identified cases in every quarter is not withdrawn by March 22, 2023, they would protest the issue seriously. It was further stated therein that the general body in its meeting held on March 18, 2023, has unanimously resolved that if the High Court does not withdraw the said scheme, all the lawyers in the M.P. State would collectively protest and will abstain from judicial work w.e.f. March 23, 2023.

Thereafter, the Chief Justice vide communication replied to the same and stated that the Chairman and members of the Bar Council were most welcome to submit all the issues being faced, so that the same can be considered, and then a meeting would be convened to resolve the issues. Thereafter, communication was addressed to the Chief Justice by the Chairman which was received by email to the effect that the said scheme be adjourned for the first three months or be withdrawn immediately within 4 O’çlock today i.e., on March 22. The Bar Council of India directed the State Bar Council to take immediate steps for withdrawal of the call for strike immediately by the Bar Council as well as by the Bar Associations of the State. In flagrant violation of the direction issued by the BCI, the Chairman directed all the advocates to abstain from work.

The High Court in view of the above observed, “We are extremely shocked, worried and pained about the manner in which things have unfolded. Subsequent to the communication by respondent No.1 vide Annexure-A, a reply has been furnished asking the Chairman and the Bar Council Members to submit the issues for consideration by the Hon’ble Chief Justice. They have not done so even as on date. Rather than doing so, a call for abstaining from court work has been announced by respondent No.1.”

The Court noted that the directions of the Supreme Court in Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India and Another (2003) 2 SCC 45 have been flouted and there was no permission from the Chief Justice for the purpose of abstaining from court work.

“The Hon'ble Supreme Court have time and again held that a call to abstain from work is illegal. The lawyers cannot go on a strike. Even assuming it is a rarest of rare case, where it has to be resorted to, then the guidelines postulated in para 35 have to be followed. In terms whereof, the permission of the Hon'ble Chief Justice should have been obtained well in advance. The respondent No.1 has failed to do so. He has not complied with the orders of the Hon'ble Supreme Court”, asserted the Court.

The Court further asserted that the duty of a lawyer is to uphold the rule of law and it is he, who fights for the legal rights of a litigant. The Court said that there are almost 20 Lakh cases pending in the district court and more than 4 Lakh cases pending in the High Court.

“Every effort is being made by the Hon'ble High Court to reduce the pendency. The action of the respondent No.1 seeking to abstain from court work is opposed to the well established principles of the legal profession. The respondent No.1 cannot call for an illegal act to be done. … “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah” when translated into English means that those who protect Dharma will be protected by Dharma or in other words, it also means that those who destroy Dharma, Dharma destroys them. Therefore, in this context, when it is applied to the present scenario, it would mean that those who protect the law will be protected by law”, the Court observed.

The Court also observed that the rule of law is one of the basic tenets of the legal profession and the judgment of the Supreme Court has been violated by the respondent.

“Whatever may be the issues being faced by the lawyers, they cannot exercise their rights without first performing their duty. Their duty is to protect the legal rights of the litigants. It is only after they have done so that they can exercise their rights and that too in accordance with law. The right therefore enures only after a duty is well done. On the contrary rather than performing their duty of protecting the interest of the litigants and upholding the rule of law, they have violated the rule of law by disobeying the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal’s case (supra). All this has been done only at the behest of the call to abstain from work issued by the respondent No.1. This is not acceptable. It is illegal”, said the Court.

The Court further said that the respondent showed scant respect and disobeyed the directions issued by the BCI.

“This Court cannot be a mute spectator to the blatant disobedience of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. It is the solemn duty of this court to uphold the rule of law and also to deal with all such persons who violate the law and who have no respect for the rule of law. All actions of the lawyers should be focused only towards the litigants and not against them. The litigant has sadly and unfortunately become a silent, helpless sufferer to the actions of the respondent No.1.”, the Court noted.

The Court said that if advocates themselves abstain from work due to the call given by the respondent, it is indeed a very sad day for the State of Madhya Pradesh.

“The litigants have suffered because of this. Today is the second day, the lawyers are abstaining from attending the court. The entire judicial system is intended only for the benefit of the litigants. Everyone in the system is geared to deal with the grievances of the litigants”, asserted the Court.

Cause Title- In Reference (Suo Moto) v. Chairman, State Bar Council Of M.P. & Others

Click here to read/download the Suo Moto PIL