Lawyers harden stand as Tamil Nadu courts begin ex parte hearings

March 16th, 2009 - 11:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, March 16 (IANS) While the Madras High Court, its Madurai Bench and other subordinate courts began hearing litigants appearing as parties-in-person after a break of almost a month, striking lawyers’ organisations continued to stay off from the work Monday.
Over a thousand members of various lawyers’ organisations across Tamil Nadu surrendered their memos of appearance and ‘vakalats’ and decided to continue their boycott of courts “till the guilty police officials who brutally assaulted unarmed advocates on Feb 19 were brought to book”, according to statements of several organisations of lawyers late Monday afternoon.

Courts generally wore a deserted look, witnesses said.

The state’s registrar general Saturday issued a fiat empowering courts to dispose of cases “on merit” on ex parte basis if lawyers persisted with their boycott of courts from Monday onwards.

Appeals by the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court to advocates to suspend their mass action went unheeded.

Senior counsel S. Doraiswamy said the agitation was against police personnel blatantly violating the law.

“No force on earth can force anyone to act against the dictates of one’s conscience and the tenets of natural justice. Since the government is doing precisely that, lawyers with private practice or employed by state-run Legal-Aid Cells will surrender their memos of appearance and keep off work,” Doraiswamy told IANS.

“If the government persists with its arbitrary acts, all self-respecting lawyers will resign from all statutory bodies as a protest,” Doraiswamy added.

Press statements by lawyers’ organisations across the state indicated that their members would boycott functions attended by all judicial officers till further notice or until the issue is resolved.

In Tiruchirappalli central prison, 350 km south of here, undertrial prisoners went on a day-long hunger-strike to protest the impasse and continuing suspense about the fate of their cases, official sources said.

Helpdesks, however, were created in the vicinity of various courts by lawyers to help litigants appearing in person, witnesses said.

Litigants were at their wits’ end while representing themselves before courts.

“I argued my case seeking the court’s intervention for clearing a minor public meeting banned by the police with some difficulty but just about managed to cope. Since more than 99 percent litigants may not, I appeal to the government and agitating lawyers to end the impasse,” S. Ravichandran, who appeared in person in the high court, told IANS.

While formation of a police union to handle their case in the piquant situation has been stymied, top officials said a solution to the stalemate, hammered out in consultation with judges and the ruling party members, “was almost ready”.

It all began in early January when a section of the lawyers began protests against the Sri Lankan government’s military action in the island that resulted in alleged deaths of “hundreds of innocent Tamils”.

On February 19, the police and lawyers clashed in the Madras High Court, resulting in the burning down of a police station within the complex and destruction of public property.

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