Litigants in Kashmir Plead Their Own Cases Post Lawyers’ Boycott
Out of the sanctioned strength of 17 judges, there are only 9 judges in place in the J&K High Court right now.
For the first time in the history of the judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir, litigants are themselves pleading their cases in different courts, as the fraternity of lawyers in the Valley has announced a boycott in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370.
The High Court Bar Association (HCBA), with membership of over 700 lawyers at J&K High Court and over 3,000 practitioners at other courts, has been a constituent of the undivided Hurriyat Conference from 1993 to 2003. After the separatist amalgam’s split into two factions — headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani in 2003 — some of the outfits like Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and HCBA have been independently pursuing their agenda of J&K’s separation from India.
Three Top Advocates Arrested
A notice, asking lawyers to boycott all courts, has been seen at the premises of the J&K HC in Srinagar. Tension among the Valley lawyers has palpably increased, following the arrest of the HCBA President Mian Abdul Qayoom, and two more advocates of the separatist ideology, namely, Nazir Ahmad Ronga and Abdul Salam Rather. Qayoom has been shifted to a jail in Agra, while Ronga has been lodged in Srinagar Central Jail. Habeas corpus petitions on their behalf are now under consideration of the J&K HC that has issued notices to the government.
Work at all the courts, including the J&K HC, has suffered to a great extent, even as it has not come to a grinding halt.
Several officials and lawyers at the J&K HC told The Quint that 5-10 percent lawyers, and 30 percent of the staff had been attending to their duties and commitments, notwithstanding the lockdown which has gradually assumed the colour of “civil curfew”. However, a member of HCBA claimed that “only a few” lawyers had appeared in some cases. He said that there was no embargo on appearing in habeas corpus petitions, and the cases were with regard to militants and separatists.
Striving to Keep Courts Functional Amidst Lockdown
“Authorities have relaxed restrictions in several areas, excluding downtown Srinagar, but it doesn’t help us. A number of vehicles have been damaged by stone pelters as they don’t allow the government employees, including the hospital staff at certain places, to attend their duties. Many of us reach our offices in casual outfits,” said the Secretary of a judge of J&K HC who stressed on his anonymity.
Registrar General of J&K HC, Sanjay Dhar, revealed to The Quint that Chief Justice Gita Mittal had been continuously camping in Srinagar since 5 August, and doing her best to keep the courts functional.
“A few months back, Madam Chief Justice slipped and suffered a fracture. Even then she held the court without fail from her residence through video conference. Since 5 August, she has been holding the Division Bench (DB) for half of the day with Justice Rashid Ali Dar Sahab. Thereafter, for the second half, she looks after the administrative matters,” Dhar stated.
Out of the sanctioned strength of 17 judges, there are only 9 judges in place in the J&K HC. Four each have been holding the courts in Kashmir and Jammu, and one has been on leave for health reasons.
‘Work Has Not Been Completely Paralysed’
According to Dhar, 20-30 cases are listed every day for the DB in Srinagar. Besides, around 100 cases figure in the roster of each of the three judges of the Single Bench. As regards the attendance of the government advocates, The Quint learned that all of them had been appearing at different courts on all working days, even as their work remains largely paralysed on Fridays.
For pursuance of the government cases, there is a team of 15 advocates — one Advocate General, three Senior Additional Advocates General, three AAGs, three Deputy AGs and five Government Advocates.
“All of them have been present on duty without break during the current unrest,” said an official at AG’s office. He said that the judges and litigants were facing some problems due to absence of the lower clerical staff but their work had not been completely paralysed.
Over 10,000 Cases Disposed Of in 16 Days
Dhar said that the litigants themselves had been pleading their cases and many such matters, which didn’t involve technicalities and legal or procedural hitches, were being heard and decided by the judges. According to him, more than 10,000 such criminal and civil suits had been disposed of in different courts across J&K from 5 August to 23 August.
The data available from 15 of the 22 districts, including Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh, indicates that as many 8,466 suits had been decided in the first 16 days of the unrest. According to Mr Dhar, no contact could be established with Kupwara and Budgam districts in Kashmir and Samba, Kishtwar, Doda-Bhaderwah, Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu. Officials claimed that the total number of the cases settled in all the 22 districts could be between 10,000 and 12,000. “We have data from 15 districts but the picture will become clear after we receive data from the rest of the 7 districts,” said an officer.
While the single benches of the J&K HC have disposed of 312 cases in Jammu and 6 in Srinagar, the number of suits settled by DBs is 243 and 65 respectively.
In all, single benches have disposed 318 cases and DBs 308 cases from 5 August to 23 August.
Of the 8,466 cases disposed by District Courts and other courts of subordinate judiciary, Jammu tops the list with 5,576 cases. In the Valley, Srinagar tops the list with 419 cases including 348 criminal, 68 civil and 3 small.
District-wise break-up of the cases disposed
- Jammu: 5,576
- Udhampur: 615
- Reasi: 436
- Ramban: 245
- Kathua: 183
- Srinagar: 419
- Anantnag: 188
- Baramulla: 179
- Bandipora: 50
- Pulwama: 49
- Ganderbal: 45
- Kulgam: 42
- Shopian: 09
(The writer is a Srinagar-based senior journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)
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