Madhya Pradesh HC issues show cause notice in contempt proceedings against State Bar Council Chairman

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The Chairman of the State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh had asked the entire lawyer community in the State of Madhya Pradesh to abstain from court work w.e.f. March 23, 2023.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court at Gwalior Bench on Monday directed the high court registry to register a contempt case (criminal) against the Chairman of the State Bar Council and every elected member of the State Bar Council. 

The bench of Justice Atul Sreedharan ordered the registry to also issue notice to the accused persons as to why the court ought not to prosecute them for criminal contempt of court on account of them having compelled the lawyers to abstain from judicial work. "...which is interfering and obstructing the administration of justice in the State,"  court stressed. 

A strike by the lawyers in the State has been going on since March 23, 2023, against a scheme for disposing of pending cases.

On March 24, 2023, a division bench headed by the High Court Chief Justice and Justice Vishal Mishra passed an order in a petition pertaining to the issue of the ongoing strike. In the order, the division bench had referred to the lack of support to the strike from the Bar Council of India and had also referred to BCI's direction in the letter dated March 23 which asked the State Bar Council to withdraw the call for abstinence from work.

"However, despite the said letter of the BCI, the Chairman and members of the State Bar Council have enforced the call for strike," the single judge bench underscored. 

The judge, therefore, held that the strike called by the Chairman and the elected members of the State Bar Council was in brazen defiance of the order passed by the division bench. 

The judge also slammed the State Bar Council for issuing illegal diktats and compelling junior lawyers to support the strike it announces.

"The plight of the Bar, specially the Junior Bar is well known and they find themselves in a “between the devil and the deep sea” situation are helplessness to go against the illegal diktat of the State Bar Council and are compelled to abstain from work despite their unwillingness, and are equal victims of the capricious action of the State Bar Council as the litigants are," the judge stated. 

Accordingly, the single judge bench held that the action on the part of the Chairman of the Madhya Pradesh State Bar Council and its elected Members amounted to Criminal Contempt as defined under Section 2(c)(ii) or (iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

On March 24, 2023, the bench of Chief Justice Ravi Malimath and Justice Vishal Mishra at the Jabalpur Bench had condemned the State Bar Council Chairman for calling out the present strike. 

The division bench was dealing with a suo motu case taken up by the court. The court had then directed all the advocates throughout the State to attend to their court work immediately.

Notably, on Monday, March 27, 2023, the State Bar Council resolved to go on another two-day strike to protest against the above-mentioned scheme as per which district courts are required to dispose of 25 of the oldest cases within 3 months.