Madras High Court: Uneven application of rule of law – II
by Radha Rajan on 02 Nov 2013 8 Comments
No less a person than Hon’ble Justice Srikrishna observed in 2009 – My view, albeit prima facie, is that the soft-pedalling policy followed by the Madras High Court Judges has led to the present piquant situation. The lawyers appear to have been encouraged by the wrong 'signals sent out and seemed to think that they could do anything and get away within the Court premises. Regretfully, far from being the upholders of the rule of law, the lawyers seem to have behaved as hooligans and miscreants. The incidents that transpired over a last month or so make it clear that the lawyers seemed to be under the impression that, because they are officers of the Court, they are immune from the process of law and that they could get away with any unlawful act without being answerable to the law enforcing agency. It is most unfortunate that the soft policy adopted by the Acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court and its administration sent out clearly a wrong message that encouraged and emboldened the lawyers into becoming law breakers.

(Excerpt from On The Incidents That Occurred On The 19th February 2009 At The Madras High Court by Justice BN Srikrishna, 4th March, 2009)


The bitter, running feud between Tamil Nadu lawyers and police is public knowledge. The feud has a long history, but three recent cases reveal that judges helped the criminal sections of their fraternity. S Thangaraj, judicial magistrate, Coonoor was allegedly in a live-in relationship lasting over a year with one Uma Maheswari, a sub-inspector of police. During that period when Thangaraj was a brief-less lawyer, he was supported financially by his live-in companion. But when was elevated as judicial magistrate, he abandoned Uma Maheswari and married another woman.


Uma Maheswari filed a complaint with the All Woman Police Station (AWPS) Coonoor for sexual assault and criminal intimidation, which forwarded the complaint to the District Judge soon after registering the complaint. Sub-inspector Uma Maheswari sent all relevant documents and papers through postal service to the Acting CJ and to the high court registry. It is said that sub-inspector Uma Maheswari came to Chennai and personally met at least two senior judges and the Registrar-General and handed over the complaint petition against Thangaraj seeking their personal intervention to render justice.


When the wheels of justice did not move, the police had no option but to register the complaint and arrest the judicial magistrate; he was lodged in Coimbatore Central Prison in June.


At this, Tamil Nadu lawyers promptly struck work and began to boycott courts. And conforming to Justice Srikrishna’s perception, the incumbent CJ opted to punish the Tamil Nadu police instead of upholding the June 17, 2013 High Court judgment with regard to live-in relationships. As is well known, Judge CS Karnan had ruled – “If a bachelor aged 21 years or above and a spinster aged 18 years or above had premarital sex with intention to marry and subsequent to this the man deserts the woman, the victim woman can approach a civil forum for remedy after producing necessary substantial evidence to grant her social status as wife. This remedy is not only for the purpose of giving relief to the victim woman but also to maintain the cultural integrity of India.


Law permits the affected woman to initiate criminal proceedings against her paramour for cheating her and deserting her after making a promise of marriage, but there is no provision to approach the civil forum for her remedy. The high court is the apex court of this state and constitutional authority. Therefore, this court has given the legal relief to the affected woman”.


This was consistent with a similar judgment by the Supreme Court in SPS Balasubramanyam vs Sruttayan [AIR 1992 SC 756], wherein the apex court said, “If a man and a woman are living under the same roof and cohabiting for a number of years, there will be presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act that they live as husband and wife and the children born to them will not be illegitimate.”   


Under these judicial prescriptions, Uma Maheswari, even if she was a sub-inspector of police was a “victim woman” and Thangaraj even if he was a judicial magistrate, was guilty of “cheating her and deserting her”. But the First Bench of the Madras High Court on July 2 initiated contempt proceedings on its own against the police officers who arrested the judicial magistrate.


The First Bench observed, “By this action, they had lowered the authority of the court in the eyes of the general public which, prima facie, amounts to contempt of court. Blatant misuse of powers and showing scant regard and disrespect to the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the case of Delhi Judicial Service Association vs. State of Gujarat (dealing with the arrest of a judicial officer) has compelled us to take suo motu action for committing contempt by five police officers and three constables who accompanied the officers.”


The end result was that the judicial magistrate has been released from prison and is back officiating as judicial magistrate, the TN police have once again been charged with contempt of court and the wronged woman Uma Maheswari has not been rendered justice.


In February 17, 2009, the running feud between police and lawyers exploded in violence inside the Madras High Court premises. A group of lawyers shouting pro-LTTE and pro-Prabhakaran slogans barged into a court room where Judges Chandru and PK Mishra were hearing a petition filed by Dr. Subramanian Swamy asking to be impleaded in the case related to the TN government’s take-over of the historic Chidambaram temple. The writer and others were present in court because the case concerned Hindu temples; we witnessed Dr. Swamy being beaten on the head repeatedly by slogan-shouting lawyers who also pelted eggs on Dr. Swamy. For summoning the police stationed outside the doors into the court room and shutting the doors of the court room so that the lawyers could not escape with impunity before being identified, the writer and her friends were also beaten up by the lawyers. The case was adjourned to February 19.


On February 19 lawyers of the Madras High Court provoked the police by pelting stones and other improvised missiles at them. The police retaliated with force and all hell broke loose. The police went on a rampage; every lawyer in court was thrashed; lawyers set vehicles on fire, and finally burnt down the police station inside the court. Every shameful detail of the orgy of violence by the police and lawyers is on video. And yet, on March 3, 2009, the then CJI, Judge KG Balakrishnan pronouncing his verdict on a PIL filed by several lawyers and advocates’ associations including the state Bar Association, ordering immediate action against the TN police.


In view of this incident we request Mr. Justice B.N. Srikrishna, former Judge of the Supreme Court to inquire into the incident which happened on 19th February, 2009.


The Committee initially shall consider whether any immediate action against the police officers who allegedly allowed armed policemen to enter the premises of the High Court without permission or acting Chief Justice. The Committee is requested to give an interim report within a week, if possible.


Meanwhile Joint Commissioner of Police (Central Madras) and three Deputy Commissioner of Police (Pulianthope) may be transferred from the Madras city forthwith and the same shall be continued till the submission of interim report. These transfers are being suggested to facilitate fair enquiry by the Committee and without prejudice to their rights.

(Excerpts from the March 3 judgment delivered by CJI Judge KG Balakrishnan)


Justice Srikrishna’s interim report with clinical precision recorded police violence and excessive force; the report clinically exposed TN lawyers for their support of a proscribed terrorist organization, their repeated strikes which was affecting litigants and their utter lawlessness. Justice Srikrishna went so far as to name some of the lawyers responsible for the violence.


Alarmed by Justice Srikrishna’s damning indictment of judges, particularly the Acting CJ, the Madras High Court in a (cosmetic) gesture, set up two judicial commissions to look into the February 19 lawyer-police violence. But it chose not to look at the events of February 17 but only at February 19.   


They failed to fulfil even this half-gesture. The two judicial commissions, at the time of the grand announcement, were mandated to look into both lawyer violence and police violence. The commission to look at lawyer violence was supposed to be a bench of five serving judges while the commission to look into police violence had two serving judges. The former never took off the ground and no judge has seen fit to take suo motu notice of this failure. Unwilling to soil their hands cleansing the Tamil Nadu Bar of criminal lawyers, the Madras High Court and the Apex Court found scapegoats outside their own flock to explain away the bloody events on February 19, 2009.


Judges Khalifulla and Banumathi in their judgment of October 29, 2009, laid the sins of February 19 on the head of the then Commissioner of Police and three of his subordinate colleagues. So far, neither the Supreme Court nor the Madras High Court looked at the events of February 17 or the criminal past of a section of its lawyers. We can safely assume that the victims of courtroom violence on February 17 have been made the Madras High Court’s sacrificial goats.


In this manner, lawyers and judges closed ranks and the lawyers named by Justice Srikrishna in his interim report continue to roam the corridors of the Madras High Court.



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