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35. Satyagrahi Lawyers
[Editor's Note: As a protest against the passing of the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act (XI of 1919), known popularly as the Rowlatt Act, certain barristers and pleaders practising in the Courts of the Ahmedabad District joined a movement called the Satyagraha Sabha and signed a pledge whereby they undertook "to refuse civilly to obey these laws (viz., the Rowlatt Act) and such other laws as a committee to be hereafter appointed may think fit". B. C. Kennedy, the District Judge of Ahmedabad, called upon these barristers and pleaders to explain their conduct in signing the pledge. The respondents offered an explanation of their conduct which the District Judge considered unsatisfactory. On a reference from the District Judge, the High Court of Bombay issued notice against the respondent barristers and pleaders to show cause why they should not be dealt with under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the High Court for taking the pledge. The notice came up for hearing before the Hon'ble Chief Justice Sir Norman Macleod and Mr. Justice Heaton and Mr. Justice Kajiji. On hearing Bahadurji, acting Advocate-General who appeared in support of the notice and the Counsel for the respondent barristers and pleaders who appeared to show cause the High Court delivered judgment on 15-10-1919. It was held by the High Court that the barristers and pleaders had, by signing the pledge, rendered themselves amenable to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the High Court. The High Court further held that under the circumstances it was not necessary to take any disciplinary action against the respondents but a mere warning to them was enough. The judgment of the High Court is reported in 22 Bombay Law Reporter at page 13.]

The judgment of the (Bombay) High Court in the case of the Satyagrahi lawyers is, to say the least, highly unsatisfactory. It has shirked the issue. The logical outcome of the judgment should have been punishment and not a postponement of it. The lawyers in question had shown no repentance. So far as the public know, they will be ready to offer civil disobedience should the occasion arise. The issue having been raised, the lawyers did not ask for mercy but a clear decision. As it is, they do not know where they are.
The learned Judges have laid down principles of legal conduct which, in our humble opinion, are open to question. For instance, what is the meaning of "those who live by the law must keep the law"? If it means that no lawyer may ever commit a civil breach without incurring the displeasure of the court, it means utter stagnation. Lawyers are the persons most able to appreciate the dangers of bad legislation and it must be with them a sacred duty by committing civil breach to prevent a criminal breach. Lawyers should be guardians of law and liberty and as such are interested in keeping the statute book of the country 'pure and undefiled'. But the Judges of the Bombay High Court have presented to them a mercenary view of their profession and have even confounded the functions of judges and lawyers. The only escape from the intolerable situation created by the judgment is for the respondents to have the case restored to the board, re­argued and to ask for a final decision. Fortunately the Judges have left the course open to the Satyagrahi lawyers.

Young India, 22-10-1919, p. 1