Chandigarh: The Punjab and Haryana High Court remained in a state of virtual shutdown for an unprecedented 20th day Wednesday, following an indefinite strike by lawyers.
The prominent cases that were to be heard in this period included the Kathua rape and murder case, the Punjab drug case and the Panchkula violence case. The high court hears up to 1,000 freshly-instituted cases every day, and more than 2,000 in which notices have already been issued.
The lawyers are protesting against Haryana’s move to set up a State Administrative Tribunal headed by a retired HC judge to adjudicate service matters presently being heard by the HC.
The Bar Association has declared the creation of the tribunal as “patently unconstitutional”, and “a grievous assault on the constitutionally-enshrined principles of judicial review, independence of the judiciary and separation of powers”.
Bar association fined for stopping litigants
Since the strike began on 25 July, lawyers have refused to appear and have also not allowed any litigant to enter the court complex.
On Tuesday, a full bench of the high court headed by Chief Justice Krishna Murari took suo motu cognisance of complaints from litigants regarding not being allowed to enter the court, and ordered that “scanning” the urgency of litigants before letting them in was “illegal and unconstitutional”.
Taking up a matter of a litigant not being allowed to enter the court, Justice Manoj Bajaj Tuesday imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the Bar Association, to be paid to the litigant.
Later that day, Bar Association president D.P.S. Randhawa told the media: “The lawyers strike will continue but litigants will be allowed to enter from Wednesday.”
On Wednesday, litigants were allowed to enter the court and argue their cases themselves. The full bench, which met again to review the situation, has now asked lawyers to modify their “manner of protest” which was obstructing the functioning of the high court.
Efforts to end strike fail
All efforts at ending the strike have failed, with the latest general body meeting of the High Court Bar Association Tuesday deciding to continue with the strike until the Haryana government withdraws the notification creating the tribunal. The decision was taken after a show-of-hands vote favoured the continuation of the strike.
The vote took place amid a stark division, with one section of lawyers, asking for it to be deferred following the formation of a committee by the Haryana government to report on the “legality, workability and viability” of tribunal.
Randhawa tried to end the meeting on the note that the strike be deferred till the committee gives its findings, but there was an uproar from a majority of the attending lawyers.
A judicial order passed on 2 August by a three-judge full bench headed by chief justice had deferred the implementation of the notification creating the tribunal “till the formalities for constituting the tribunal are completed”.
Following the chief justice’s intervention, it was initially thought that the strike has been called off, but it received fresh impetus at the general body meeting of lawyers on 5 August.
Senior advocate Anupam Gupta flayed the chief justice for hearing the matter on the judicial side even though he had himself, in his administrative capacity as chief justice, nominated retired high court judge Sneh Prashar as the chairperson of the tribunal.
Last Friday, the office bearers of the Bar Association had met Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar in Delhi over the issue, after which the review committee was constituted.