A five-member lawyers’ delegation met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday, but the spotlight was stolen by a case being heard — despite the ceasework — by a single-member bench of Calcutta High Court.
The reason was simple: the hearing at the high court held out greater hope of a solution to the lawyer impasse than the meeting at Writers’ Buildings.
The case — a petition moved by Samaraditya Pal on behalf of a private firm — questioned the government’s “undue haste” in hiking court fees via an Ordinance and bypassing the Assembly. State advocate-general Balai Ray defended the government.
The petition, moved on behalf of Zenith Credit Ltd, is being viewed as the lawyers’ return route to the courts. If Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya finds nothing wrong in the Ordinance, all lawyers will have to resume work, as they cannot be seen as going against Calcutta High Court.
And if the government’s position is struck down by the court, the ‘triumphant’ lawyers will then return to court.
Pal on Tuesday challenged the constitutional validity of the West Bengal Court Fees (Amendment) Ordinance, that took effect from November 7 and sparked the ceasework from November 13.
“What financial crisis compelled the state government to take such a hasty step and how much is it gaining in the five weeks (between November 7 and December 9) by implementing the Ordinance'” asked Pal, demanding that the government explain to the court why it had slapped the Ordinance barely a month before the Assembly’s winter session.
Pal also asked why such an “exorbitant hike” had been effected without consulting the legal fraternity.
In his defence, advocate-general Ray said a recent Supreme Court ruling allowed all state governments to hike court fees according to their own necessity. The last court-fee hike here had been effected in 1970, he stressed. Besides, a financial crisis had forced the government’s hand, Ray claimed.
The case will come up for hearing on Wednesday, when it is sure to attract a horde of ‘out-of-uniform’ lawyers.
The Bar Council delegation, meanwhile, met the chief minister in his office and submitted its recommendations on the Ordinance. The Council has threatened to continue the ceasework till December 11.