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Criminal courts to open today

Calcutta, Dec. 26: After 45 days, courts across Bengal will return to life. The state bar council today “suspended” the lawyers’ ceasework that started on November 13.

The criminal courts will resume work tomorrow and the civil courts will become operational from the first week of January, after the Christmas holidays.

Council chairman Amiya Chatterjee told a news conference: “We have decided to suspend our ceasework for a month. Our law minister, Nisith Adhikary, has given us a written assurance that the court fees on various items will be reduced further. We want to give him time. After a month, we will review the situation and decide on our course of action.”

The chairman added: “We had sought the opinions of all the bar associations before taking a decision on the withdrawal. A majority of the associations opined that the ceasework should be suspended for the time being for three major reasons. First, the Supreme Court has delivered a fresh ruling declaring strikes by lawyers as illegal. Second, the Bar Council of India, the parent body of the state council, had requested us to withdraw the movement immediately. Third, the law minister gave the written assurance to review the fee hike.”

Chatterjee, however, alleged that the law minister had made “some lowly remarks” on the striking lawyers. The council is taking “serious note” of it, he said. He also demanded that the minister should withdraw his comments immediately.

Adhikary had reportedly said the lawyers were earning money by “squeezing common litigants”.

Chatterjee admitted that six out of 15 members in the council executive were against the withdrawal of the strike and they had demanded that it should continue “till the minister begs unconditional apology for his alleged comments”.

Dibyendu Biswas, Jyotipriya Mallik, Ramen Ghosh, Sibaprosad Roy, Ganesh Bramhachari and Satish Jana left the conference room before the chairman announced to the mediamen the decision to withdraw the strike.

The West Bengal Bar Council, the statutory body of the lawyers in the state, had called the strike demanding the withdrawal of the Court Fees (Amendment) Ordinance, which came to effect from November 7.

In all, 568 courts across the state remained idle since November 13 as 52,000 lawyers abstained from work.

The government tabled the the Court Fees (Amendment) Bill 2002 in the winter session of Assembly, partially rolling back the fee hike, and had it passed in the House and by the Governor.

Police made elaborate security arrangements at the Sealdah court building, where the council executive met today, as there were apprehensions of trouble between the lawyers supporting and opposing the ceasework.

A large number of lawyers had assembled in front of the building since morning, anxious to know the outcome of the executive meeting.

Of the 171 bar associations in the state, 78 had sent their views on continuing with or withdrawing the strike. According to a council source, 54 associations were in favour of calling off the ceasework.

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