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Long-haul sign in lawyer strike

Calcutta, Nov. 20: The lawyers’ ceasework, originally envisaged as a 10-day affair, appears to be turning into a more protracted one with an overwhelming majority of bar associations urging the West Bengal Bar Council to carry on the strike till the Bengal government bows to its demands.

All the state’s 568 courts have remained non-functional since last Wednesday following the bar council decision — prompted by widespread discontent among its member councils and associations — to oppose the state government’s move to make legal battles much more costly.

Apprehending that the decision to raise every category of court fee would turn away litigants — already frustrated by the slow road to justice in most cases — the associations representing an overwhelming majority of the state’s 26,000-plus lawyers voted for a 10-day ceasework with the caveat that any decision to return to the courts would depend on the state government’s “attitude”.

Lawyers’ representatives met today and appeared intent on following up their threat to the letter. Presidents of more than 150 bar associations — out of the 175 in the state —met West Bengal Bar Council chairman Amiya Kumar Chatterjee and urged him not to give in to any coercion, especially CPM moves to get the party-affiliated Democratic Lawyers’ Association lawyers back to the courts.

Almost all of them agreed that the 10-day strike, scheduled to end on Friday, should stretch beyond that day as there was no signal emanating from the government that it was amenable to a climbdown. The bar council will announce its formal decision tomorrow after a meeting of heads again.

“We have to respect the sentiments of our members,” Chatterjee said after today’s meeting. Thursday’s gathering — barring a major development — looks set to be a mere formality where the stamp of approval will be put on the sentiment expressed by everyone today to carry on the ceasework.

Chatterjee said most members were hurt by the attitude of the government. Lawyers had requested law minister Nisith Adhikari to impress upon others in the government and the ruling party the need to withdraw the “ill-conceived” Ordinance hiking court fees by today.

“We are disappointed that no signal came from the government’s side till late this evening,” Chatterjee said.

Adhikari’s explanation — that an Ordinance could not be withdrawn after it had been passed by the Cabinet — came in for flak. Constitutional experts were invited to today’s meeting to assess the legal implications.

All of them agreed that Rule 213-2B of the Constitution empowers a state government to withdraw an Ordinance, irrespective of whether it has been passed by the Cabinet or not.

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