October 6, 2018
Despite court strictures, lawyers in several parts of the country continue to strike work, crippling litigation, causing massive revenue loss and creating a rift between the Bar and the Bench
February 2018: The Calcutta High Court witnessed the longest ever cease work protest in its history with around 11,000 lawyers boycotting work for 71 days.
May 2018: Lawyers of the Rajasthan High Court organised a month-long strike during which they boycotted work, led silent marches and blocked roads in the court premises.
August 2018: Lawyers in Ghaziabad organised a 22-day-long relay hunger strike during which they boycotted courts and got into a scuffle with the police.
September 2018: Odisha dominated news headlines as lawyers engaged in violent acts during a cease work protest which has continued for 34 days despite the Supreme Court directing them to resume work.
More than 150 days have already been lost this year in various courts across the country due to strikes and boycotts by lawyers, causing massive loss of revenue and great inconvenience to litigants. The statistics for previous years are no better. According to the 266th report of the Law Commission of India, between 2011 and 2016, 18 courts in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan were on strike for an average of around 110 days per year, with several at more than 135 days a year, and one—Muzaffarnagar—at an average of 158 days.
The increasing frequency with which lawyers resort to strikes and boycotts begs the question as to why they indulge in acts which even courts have stated are illegal. As per the Law Commission report, the reasons for lawyers’ strikes and abstention protests organised during the period 2011-16 were hardly justifiable. They included religious occasions such as shraadh, heavy rains, interstate river disputes, earthquake in Nepal, bomb blast in a Pakistan school and even a kavi sammelan. But not all reasons can be considered whimsical or patently untenable. On several occasions, lawyers have taken the recourse of strikes and boycotts as a means to voice their grievances and seek remedial action. Violence against lawyers, especially by the police, demands for greater pecuniary jurisdiction and more circuit benches, outrage against judicial vacancies and expensive court fees are some of the grievances most commonly taken up by lawyers.
This raises a very pertinent question: do lawyers even have a right to call for strike?