A demand for lifting the ban on strikes by lawyers failed to find favour with Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who wondered why advocates should go on strike at all. “I don’t think it is an issue at all. Why go into the legalities? Why should there be a strike? I am sure there won’t be any,” CJI Gogoi, who took over on October 3, said. He was addressing a felicitation organised for him by the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Saturday.
The Supreme Court had in 2002 ruled that lawyers have no right to go on strike or call for a boycott or token strike.
Speaking at the event on Saturday, BCI Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra referred to this and said “if the mouth of lawyers are shut, it will destroy the very democratic setup of the country”. He added that the legal fraternity hoped the CJI “will restore our freedom”.
The CJI’s views found support in Justice Arun Mishra, who said lawyers’ strikes can only be supported in “exceptional cases when the democracy is in danger” or for “saving the judicial system”, but otherwise “it has no right to go on strike”.
Justice Mishra pointed to the difficulties litigants would have to face if lawyers keep away from courts.
CJI Gogoi also expressed concern over the percentage of undertrials in India’s prison population. “Sixty-seven per cent of the prison population are undertrials, out of which 47 per cent are between the ages of 18 and 30,” he said. “Out of this 67 per cent, 66 per cent belong to the Scheduled Caste and 71 per cent are below Class 10 and 28 per cent are illiterate.”
The CJI also touched upon the issue of pendency of cases and said, “There is a feeling amongst all of us that the number of cases coming into courts are huge. It is huge because India is a huge country, but it is not.” Citing figures from the USA, he said the number of new cases filed annually per thousand population there was 300 compared to only 15 in India.
He also said that in India there is one lawyer for every 1,400. “More lawyers are going to come. As the lawyer-population ratio has to naturally grow with inflow of cases coming. This is where the Bar council has an enormous role to play”.
The CJI expressed concern over the state of legal education in the country, and said that the BCI, being the regulator, has to keep in focus the quality of legal education.
“There are 23 National Law Schools but there are 1,500 law colleges, even some of the 23 National Law Schools are not doing so well. Barring a few colleges, say like the Government Law College in Bombay, Law Faculty in Delhi and a couple of law colleges in the state capital, the others are not doing well. This is the responsibility of the regulator, the quality of legal education in the country,” said the CJI.
On the issue of consulting the Bar on appointment of judges, Justice Gogoi said that the “the judges do consult the Bar” and that “the Bar is always taken into reckoning”, though the process is “not formalised”.
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