Lawyers Cannot Be Forced to Join ‘Black Day’ Protest against New Criminal Laws: Calcutta HC

New Criminal Laws

The Calcutta High Court has observed that no lawyer can be compelled to stop work and participate in a lawyers’ strike recently called by the West Bengal Bar Council to protest the implementation of three new criminal laws on July 1.

A single bench of Justice Shampa Sarkar noted that the Bar Council’s resolution to mark July 1 as ‘Black Day’ in protest against the new criminal laws should be viewed as a request rather than a mandate.

The Court clarified that while the resolution called for advocates to abstain from judicial work and organize protest rallies, no willing lawyer should be forced to cease work. “It is a settled position of law that no one can be compelled to observe a strike or cease work. Lawyers discharge a public function for the litigants. Thus, this resolution of the Bar Council of West Bengal shall not be treated as a mandate on the learned advocates to abstain from work. Willing advocates are entitled to appear before the Courts all over West Bengal and Andaman & Nicobar Islands,” the Court stated.

The new criminal laws-namely the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA)—are set to come into force on July 1. These laws are intended to replace the existing colonial-era criminal laws in India, including the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act.

The move has sparked controversy regarding its passage in Parliament, its potential impact on existing criminal cases, practical challenges in implementing the overhaul, and even the names of the new laws. On June 26, the State Bar Council of West Bengal announced that it would observe July 1 as ‘Black Day,’ passing a resolution condemning the laws as anti-people, undemocratic, and likely to cause significant hardship to the common man.

This decision by the Bar Council was challenged in the High Court, with the petitioner questioning the authority of the State Bar Council to call for such a strike. The High Court has allowed the Bar Council three weeks to file its response to the petition and has warned against preventing any lawyer from working on July 1 due to the Bar Council’s resolution.

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About the Author: Nunnem Gangte