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Advocates' Strikes: Ex-Captain Harish Uppal v. Union of India

A strike is a period of cessation of work collectively by the employees to create pressure upon managerial authorities. This action is undertaken as a response to the perceived discrimination, exploitation, or inimical condition imposed by the employer, and a quest to highlight grievances and demand reformation in the employment conditions. The strike generally concludes once the employee's demands are fulfilled, or a satisfactory negotiation has been reached.

Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India accords the right to form a union or association and composedly go on strike, it is a legal right and not a fundamental right, and only workers belonging to certain professions can enjoy its privilege. Certainly, the profession of advocacy doesn't have the privilege of being on strike, the court has multiple times by their pronouncements strictly condemned strikes by the advocates and referred to them as disruption in the administration of justice.

Harish Uppal v. UOI (2003) decided on 17th December 2002 by Supreme Court is a landmark case in the landscape of India. The case shed light on the matter of strikes by advocates and by other officers performing vital roles in the mechanism of the legal system, herein the judiciary has explicitly clarified that such strikes degrade the noble profession of advocacy and delay the process of providing justice, it also violates the interest of litigants.

Facts of the CaseMr. Harish Uppal was a retired army officer. He was posted in Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971. In 1972, he was serving as a Court-Martialed, he was then arrested with allegations of embezzlement and some other irregularities during his tenure in Bangladesh (1971).
  1. Mr. Uppal was dismissed from the post and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment.
  2. Aggrieved with punishment, he filed a review application but received no positive result. Subsequently, he filed a post-affirmation application to which he procured a reply after 11 years, by then, the review period had expired.
  3. Mr. Uppal, later on, discovered that his applications and documents got misplaced due to a strike by a group of advocates, which resulted in the delay in reply.
  4. Frustrated with the injustice caused, Mr. Uppal filed a writ petition under Article 32 in the Supreme Court to challenge the action of strikes and call for boycotts by advocates and sought strict action to be taken against it.
Legal Issues Raised
Primary Issues that were raised:
  1. Whether Advocates have the right to strike or call for boycotts under Article 19(1)(c)?
  2. What impact do strikes by advocates make on the administration of justice and the rights of clients?
  3. The Justification for the illegality of the strikes and boycotts by advocates whilst balancing the interest of advocates with the functioning of the legal system.
  4. How do strikes by advocates affect the rights of litigants to a speedy trial?
  5. Identification and explanation of the 'rarest of rare cases' where strikes might be permissible to the advocates.
  6. How do strikes affect the adjudication of cases?

Arguments of the Parties

Petitioner (Harish Uppal)

  1. The petitioner primarily argued that the strikes and call for boycotts undertaken by the advocates are unlawful, and unjust and shall be banned by the courts. These kinds of strikes become a hindrance in the dispensation of justice and render outrageous delays in the legal proceedings, affecting the efficient disposal of cases.
  2. The petitioner argued that the strikes by advocates infringed the client's interest and their right to be tried within a reasonable time. He highlighted that strikes also lead to the misplacement of documents, which is unjust and incorporates irregularities in the legal administration process.
  3. The petitioner argued that the advocates are the officers of the court, and by acquiring that position they shall adhere to certain obligations towards the court, clients, and society at large. Therefore, they must aid in the smooth functioning of the judiciary and timely adjudication of the cases for effective deliverance of justice. Nonetheless, such strikes clearly compose a violation of the duties endangering the integrity of the legal profession as well as amounting to professional misconduct.
  4. The petitioner pleaded under the court to take strict action against strikes and boycotts by the advocates, penalize such actions, and safeguard the interests of the litigants.

Respondent (Union of India and Delhi High Court)

  1. The respondents argued that the advocates also have the right to go on strike under Article 19(1)(c) of the Indian Constitution. Like any other association of people, advocates can also form an association or group to go on strike and ask for their welfare and rights.
  2. The respondents argued that in some appropriate cases where the advocates find no effective medium to communicate with the authorities, in such cases, a strike is considered the only medium to voice their opinions and demands.
  3. The respondent argued that taking disciplinary action against the advocates on strikes will infringe on their right to expression.


  1. The Honorable Supreme Court strongly condemned the action of strikes and boycotts by the advocates and held it unlawful. Even a call for a strike is equally unacceptable by law; hence, advocates have no right to strike. The court directed the Bar Council of India and all the State Bar Councils to monitor illegal strikes undertaken by the advocates and strict action shall be taken for the same. Necessary measures shall be taken to prohibit such strikes.
  2. The Advocates who participate in illegal strikes are liable to face disciplinary actions from their respective State Bar Councils, which can result in suspension of their license or cancellation as well.
  3. The Advocates participating in unlawful strikes and boycotts can be held liable for contempt of court.
  4. The court held only in rare circumstances where the integrity, respect, and working of the Bar Association is at stake, a strike may be permitted, for instance, a conflict of interest between two or more groups of lawyers or some sort of confrontation with the administration or grievance with a judgment of the court or presiding officer, etc.
  5. The court held all the grievances that are possible to be resolved by law should be done by approaching the courts and not by protests.
  6. The court held if any protest is required to be undertaken by the advocates, it can only be done by publishing statements in the press, TV interviews, carrying banners signifying the matter of resentment outside the premises of the court, issuing notices for that matter, wearing black or white or any kind of bands on the arms, a march of protest outside the court premises or away from the court, etc., but all that shall be done in a peaceful manner that doesn't disturb the working of the court.
  7. The court further held that in the rare cases where protest is permitted, no advocate can be forced to become a part of the protest without their free will.
  8. The Court held those advocates whose names appear on vakalatnama (a document to authorize an Advocate to represent a client) can't deny representing their client's case under the pretext of strikes.
  9. The court highlighted that strikes and boycotts affect the interest of clients and their right to legal representation. It noted that the primary goal of the legal profession is to ensure justice is served without delay and strikes impede the right of the client to a speedy trial.
  10. The court emphasized the duty of the advocates as the officers of the court. It is imperative for them to help the court in the speedy disposal of the case, proper administration of justice, and timely delivery of effective judgment, but the strikes are contrary to their duties and create hindrance in the working of the judicial system.

Judgement Analysis
The judgment clarifies that advocates don't have the right to strike or call for boycotts, such action amounts to professional misconduct, and are liable for strict disciplinary actions by the State Bar Council and Bar Council of India. The advocates play an important role in the administration of the judicial system, their participation in unlawful strikes inhibits the working of the court, therefore the judgment explicitly states that striking advocates can be held liable for contempt of court. The court also protected the rights of the citizen to a speedy trial and the interest of litigants.

The Judgement serves as a strong condemnation for strikes and boycotts by the legal fraternity. The judgment, in this case, is a stern reminder to the advocates to acknowledge and adhere to their obligation. By choosing to be a part of the legal profession, they must maintain the integrity of the noble legal profession, and they have to be mindful of the fact that they have certain duties towards the clients, society, and citizens, they have to protect the interest of their client and ensure all the rights are being given to them. As a part of the legal profession by default, it becomes the duty of advocates to maintain citizen's faith in the rule of law.

Although advocates don't have the right to strike, the court has identified some rare cases where protest can be permitted, which opened doors for them to protest in a peaceful manner, by this allowance the judiciary ensured that the advocates can exercise their right to expression while not compromising with professional duties and integrity of the legal profession. A framework for permissible protest has been provided to maintain the freedom of advocates to voice their grievances at the same time fulfill the duties to represent their clients and uphold the trust of citizens in the judiciary.

It is to be noted that the professional misconduct of an advocate has to be primarily adjudicated by the Bar Councils as per the Advocate's Act, however, that doesn't prevent the court from not intervening in such matters, the courts can very well entertain cases related to the rights of the litigants and integrity of the legal profession. Additionally, it can direct the Bar Councils to take necessary actions against misconduct. This dual mechanism ensures both State Bar Councils and the court of law can maintain standards of the legal profession.

The case of Harish Uppal v. Union of India (2003) is a landmark case in Indian legal history, it is a pivotal case that brought much-needed clarity that caused uncertainty in the matter of strikes and boycotts by advocates. The case reaffirmed the fundamental duties of the advocates to comply with basic standards of professional conduct, if not maintained, will have serious repercussions. The Supreme Court concluded the case by giving judgment in such a manner that maintained an equilibrium between the interest of advocates and the litigants and also upheld the sanctity of the legal profession.

The ruling of the case serves as a precedent and acts as a guiding path to aid the judges while deciding upon similar cases in the future. The case emphasized the nobility of the legal profession and reminded advocates of their role to be protectors of the rule of law and not disruptors so that the general public can have faith in the legal fraternity.

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