The welfare of clients is certainly the lawyers’ business, but a protracted ceasework on their behalf seems a little paradoxical. The lawyers of West Bengal have taken umbrage at the state government’s decision, conveyed by ordinance, to increase stamp duty and court fees. It is the state’s lack of consideration for harassed litigants that has deeply offended the 26,000 odd lawyers. The bar associations all feel that their members would have to charge their clients more if the state enforces higher court fees, and where will the litigants, already bled white by the endless delays in the process of justice, be then' Noble sentiments may be spiritually elevating, but their bases often turn out to be shaky. In the first place, paralysing the judicial process simply means an exacerbation of the delay that the lawyers are so concerned about. Besides, their concern is mightily misplaced. The litigants will have to pay the higher court fees: the procedure should be so clarified that they can pay everything directly without having to involve their lawyers. Then there would be no question of lawyers having to absorb the shock and pass it on to their clients. Lawyers are known to value their own services. To the more sceptical, this concern for their clients following the hike in court fees may seem a little too timely.
If the state government has been driven by its reduced circumstances to cut down on subsidies in the services, whether health, education or the law, then this has to be welcomed as the right move for rather sad reasons. Subsidizing the underprivileged is not quite the same thing as subsidizing services which everyone will use. Court fees have remained the same for the past thirty years. The attempt to make up for lost time may seem a little startling at first, but it is the most sensible thing the state government can do. To continue with a mistaken policy or a policy which has become impractical simply because that is the way it has always been is folly with a suicidal streak. Why lawyers should decide to champion illogic is not clear; altruism does not demand a surrender of reason. Raising court fees is a step towards reform. Here lawyers would be expected to help, not hinder. By stopping work, they have violated those very norms of civic and professional duty that they are claiming to uphold.