Calcutta High Court on Thursday asked 25 leading members of its Bar Council to show cause why action should not be initiated against them for treating with contempt an earlier court ruling that forbade strikes by the “statutory body”.
An overwhelming majority of lawyers in the state had responded, towards the end of 2002, to a ceasework call by the Bar Council and almost all bar associations, to protest the Left Front government’s decision to hike court fees. This paralysed all courts in the state for over six weeks.
That the court has taken a serious view of the 46-day ceasework was indicated by Justice Samaresh Banerjee’s decision to transfer the case to a division bench as, prima facie, it involved a criminal contempt of court.
The division bench, comprising Justices Ashok Kumar Ganguly and D.P. Sengupta, on Thursday asked 25 individual members of the Bar Council to show cause for their intransigence. The date for the next hearing has been fixed for February 20.
The lawyers have now adopted a wait-and-watch strategy, evident from Bar Council executive committee chairman Uttam Majumdar’s guarded response, late on Thursday: “I am yet to get an order from the court and, therefore, it will be unfair on my part to comment on it.” Asked for a response on behalf of the Council, he said: “The contempt notices are being served individually and I cannot comment on the Council’s behalf.”
The court move follows an appeal by two Barasat court lawyers, Mihir Das and Probodh Kumar Ray, who were suspended by their bar association for not joining the strike that had found widespread support within the legal community. The duo chose to file the appeal in Justice Banerjee’s court. The judge had, in a 1996 verdict, concluded that the Bar Council had no right to go on strike. The judgment had also restrained bar associations or the Bar Council from taking action against any lawyer defying its ceasework call.
The plea was filed by Bikash Bhattacharjee, leader of the CPM-affiliated Democratic Lawyers’ Association (DLA), first in Justice Banerjee’s court and then in the division bench. It asked the court to act against leaders of the High Court Bar Council, who allegedly led the ceasework, and to restrain their bar association from suspending them because they chose not to join in the strike.
The judges heard out their appeal in full and then ordered a stay on their suspension by the bar association concerned. The case for contempt existed, prima facie, they said, asking the show-caused lawyers to furnish their replies by February 20.