The current state of chaos at the Madras High Court is similar to what it was a decade back. It has become a battleground where groups of lawyers assault each other, boo judges, storm court halls and obstruct proceedings. Boycott of courts, hunger-strikes, rallies, processions, black-flag demonstrations, burning of effigies and public properties and lawyers idlely hanging around have become common. In simple words, what should have changed hasn’t and what should have been eradicated still remains the primary problem with litigation in our country today.
Look at the pendency of cases at all courts of judicature in the state. As per the latest figures, the total number of pending cases in the courts is 263,569 of which 182,314 are at the principal bench in Chennai, and the remaining 81,255 are in Madurai bench. Only 34,655 (13 per cent of all pending cases) are criminal cases.
Interestingly, only in 2014 did a massive effort result in the reduction of pending cases to this level, largely due to the initiative of the Current Chief Justice of the Madras HC, Sanjay Kishan Kaul. At the time of his assuming charge as the CJ, the number of cases pending were a whopping 5.69 lakhs!
High security zone...
On 17 September 2015 the Madras high court has been declared a high security zone by Tamil Nadu government, four days after the first court hall presided over by Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul came under a day-long siege by a group of lawyers demanding declaration of Tamil as official language of the court. Earlier, unruly scenes were unleashed by three busloads of advocates brought from Madurai to Chennai, as a show of strength by Madurai Bar when its two top office-bearers were being tried for contempt of court.
High security zone means enhanced security measures, more stringent access control and enforcement of such details as verification of identity, entry by only authorised persons and maintenance of certain number of security personnel on duty at all times.
Not the first time...
This is not the first time there has been a tiff, between the Bar and Bench in the Madras HC. In 2004 the High Court issued 25-point code of conduct for advocates in practice. The court empowered itself to impose a ban of up to one year against lawyers who violated the code; banned all forms of agitation and the use of indecorous language in court halls and on court premises. The Registrar General of the High Court notified the code under Section 34(1) of the Advocates’ Act and it would apply to advocates practising in any court in Tamil Nadu.
There are conflicting views even among lawyers on the present confrontation:
N G R Prasad, former State President, All-India Lawyers’ Union, asked: “for the past 50 years, there were no conduct rules either for lawyers or judges. Why now?”
Sudha Ramalingam, a senior lawyer in the Madras High Court said: “lawyers themselves have attracted this move. The court has been very tolerant so far. There have been security issues, which have affected the smooth functioning of the court and have brought about an unpleasant atmosphere. The judiciary is the last resort for justice in a democracy. The behaviour of the lawyers in the court has just pushed things to this limit.”
The law and its functionaries are meant to aid and help the people, not scare them away and deny them its benefits. What was once a noble profession of honour and discipline is today looked upon with disgust and ridicule. That can only be changed by the practitioner setting high standards.