Odisha lawyers’ stir: Bar members must learn to behave, says SC

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would not accept the apologies by members of some bar associations at this stage in a contempt matter related to protests in Odisha and stressed they “must learn to behave”.

The members of the bar have made “us take an extremely painful decision”, the court said while hearing the matter related to protests by lawyers last year for establishing a permanent bench of the Orissa High Court in the western part of the state.

The apex court had on December 14 last year issued contempt notices to some lawyers who had participated in the boycott of courts on December 12 last year and indulged in violence in the state.

A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul was told by an advocate, appearing in the matter, that the top court had issued contempt notices and the bar members have tendered unconditional apologies.

The lawyer also said that the bar members have realised their mistake and the message has gone “loud and clear”.

However, the bench, said there was no question of accepting the apologies tendered by them at this stage.

“All this is done because we have come down harshly. All of us have been part of the bar…This (court) is the forum where you argue to get relief for your clients and you do this. This contempt must keep hanging over you. We are not going to discharge you of contempt at this moment,” the apex court bench observed.

It clarified that bail applications of those, who have been arrested in the matter, would be considered by competent courts, depending on their roles and facts of the case.

Senior advocate Manan Kumar Mishra, who is also the chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI), told the bench that some of the arrested lawyers, including those who are aged, are inside jail for over 50 days.

“Members of the bar have made us take an extremely painful decision. The idea is you must learn to behave,” the bench said.

“We are very clear that there is no question of accepting the apology at this stage. We are not closing the contempt proceedings,” it said, adding, “In our view, it is too early”.

The bench said it would like to watch if the apologies come from the heart or to get out of these proceedings.

One of the advocates told the bench that courts are not considering the bail pleas of advocates who have been arrested on the ground that the apex court is seized of this matter.

The bench said their bail pleas would be decided by the competent courts according to the law.

The apex court observed that the data showed that district courts there were shut most of the times due to protest by the lawyers. “Where will the litigants go?” the bench observed.

The Supreme Court also said it has been pointed out that facility has been provided for access to justice through virtual high courts in 10 districts of Odisha and it will taken to others districts there.

“The aforesaid is a salutary effort,” the bench said, adding that in Covid times, a huge amount of money was spent on upgrading technical infrastructure for facilitating hearing through video-conferencing mode in courts and tribunals across the country.

It said apparently, in the current Budget also, large allocation has been made for technical upgrade of the judicial infrastructure.

“We expect all judicial forums, tribunals, district courts and high courts to utilise the technical infrastructure available….,” said the bench, which posted the matter for further hearing on April 17.

While hearing the matter on December 14 last year, the apex court had said it will come down “very hard” on those who vandalised courts and disrupted proceedings in some districts of Odisha, including members of the bar.

It had also pulled up the state police for their “utter failure” to control the situation.

The top court had observed the demand for establishing a permanent bench of the state high court in western Odisha seems to have become a “prestige issue”, while noting there was no justification for having another bench of the high court in view of the widespread use of technology in the functioning of courts.

On the report placed before it about the December 12 last year incident at Sambalpur where stones were thrown at the court building and property was damaged, the apex court had said it is the police’s job to control law and order.

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