Law unto themselves
by B R Haran on 21 Mar 2009 7 Comments

THE LAW: What the law says
Taking into consideration the fact that a particular section of lawyers have indulged in seditious actions in support of a banned organisation, and considering the events which unfolded from celebrating the birthday of the LTTE Chief inside the High Court premises in November 2008, to the major offence of burning the reports of a judicial commission in March 2009, this section of lawyers deserves punishment under following sections of the IPC: 
Section 34: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention
Section 35: When such an act is criminal by reason of its being done with a criminal knowledge or intention
Section 142: Being member of unlawful assembly
Section 145: Joining or continuing in unlawful assembly, knowing it has been commanded to disperse
Section 149: Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object
Section 150: Hiring, or conniving at hiring, of persons to join unlawful assembly
Section 153A: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony
Section 224: Resistance or obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension
Section 225: Resistance or obstruction to lawful apprehension of another person
Section 228: Intentional insult or interruption to public servant sitting in judicial proceeding
Section 323: Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt
Section 332: Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty
Section 351: Assault
Section 436: Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.
Section 503: Criminal intimidation

Bar Council Act 38/1926 Section 10: lists punishments for advocates’ misconduct. ‘Misconduct’ is rather a broad term, which includes (1) unilateral withdrawal of Vakalat (2) delaying the proceedings of the court (3) interfering in the proceedings of the court (4) preventing normal functioning of the court and (5) verbally abusing others using foul language.

There is no need for a complaint and the court can take suo motu action and punish the concerned advocates by taking disciplinary proceedings for their deplorable conduct. Even if the concerned advocate is a Supreme Court Lawyer, he cannot claim immunity for punishments in lower courts and even a Munsif Court can punish him. The quantum of punishment is left to the discretion of the judge. 

THE VERDICT: The present is only “interim,” the “final” has to ensure justice!

Though the first bench, in the absence of Justice S K Mukhopadhyaya last week, had posted further hearing on these cases to 26 March, the original three-judge bench comprising Justice Mukhopadhyaya, Justice K Chandru and Justice V Dhanapalan advanced the hearing to 18 March.
The Chennai Commissioner of Police had submitted a report in which he contended that a team of senior officers headed by Additional Commissioner of Police (Law & Order), Joint Commissioner of Police (North) and other Deputy Commissioners had decided to declare the assembly as unlawful and disperse it, and hence the relevant measures were taken to disperse the unlawful assembly using minimum force, as they indulged in arson and prevented the fire service from performing its duty of putting out the fire.

In its verdict, the court “ordered” suspension of JCP (North) M Ramasubrmani (already transferred last month after the incident) and ACP A K Viswanathan, and departmental enquiries against other officers involved in the incident. It “asked” the lawyers to call off their strike and return to work!

While relying on Justice Srikrishna Commission’s report on the “excesses” committed by the police, the honourable bench has not relied upon the same to punish the lawyers. The interim order has addressed only issues of alleged excesses by police and the entry of armed police force without prior permission of the Acting Chief Justice. The advancing of the hearing to 18 March and ordering punishment of two police officers can be attributed to a desire to appease the lawyer fraternity which had organized a massive protest rally for the 19th. Probably, the state government had a specific agenda to make the lawyers get back to work through an interim order of appeasement. But the lawyers didn’t stop the march or call off the strike. Responding to the verdict, the lawyers said it was a victory of their united show of strength - they went ahead with the procession in the name of ‘Victory Rally’.

Thousands of advocates from across the State participated, shouting slogans against the police and several floats depicting alleged excesses of the police were part of the rally. They burnt effigies of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Later, the Joint Action Committee met and decided the lawyers would end boycott and resume work from 23 March onwards. 

THE OPINION: Former Law Minister and former Supreme Court Judge

Former Law Minister and Janata Party president Dr. Subramanian Swamy said, “the decision of the Madras High Court Special Bench to direct the suspension of two police officials for facilitating an inquiry into the alleged unauthorized armed police entry in the High Court campus on February 19th and the consequent disproportionate use of force by police against the pro-LTTE rock-throwing and arson-indulging lawyers is one-sided, that needs to be rectified by the Court itself in future proceedings in the matter.”

Ridiculing the so-called victory procession by the ‘pro-LTTE’ advocates, he said the victory procession was perhaps carried out to hide the climbdown from earlier demands to suspend the DGP and Chennai Police Commissioner and for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Swamy averred, “action against criminal activities and professional misconduct by about 20 advocates whose names figure in the February 17th FIR on the cowardly egg-throwing incident in open court and the 19th FIR on rioting and torching of the Police Station inside the High Court premises, now entrusted to the CBI, cannot be kept anymore in abeyance,” and demanded, “Justice Srikrishna’s Report on these ugly criminal incidents, the whole matter of the rule of law and a code of conduct for advocates will have to be thoroughly argued in Court.” He said he would file a PIL in this regard.

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice V R Krishna Iyer, in a column in ‘Mainstream’ weekly, lambasted the despicable conduct of the errant lawyers. He said, “The lawyers, it is reported, behaved barbarian and berserk by setting fire to police stations and motor cars.”

Averring that the great reputation of the Madras High Court has been tarnished beyond repair, Justice Krishna Iyer said, “Belligerency, once condoned without deterrent punishment, is apt to repeat itself. The entire judicial system in the country is shaken up. Madras today may be the Supreme Court tomorrow. If justice dies India’s future is a functioning anarchy. Parliament must meet and constitute a national enquiry by a committee of statesmen competent to give not placebos but paramount prescriptions and proscriptions to the constitutional supremacy.” 

THE JUSTICE! ‘Citizens for Justice’ organised a Press Meet 

With a seething sense of disbelief over the interim order, the forum ‘Citizens for Justice’ organized a Press Meet on 20 March to convey their feelings and to request the judiciary to consider their deposition before giving the final verdict. The forum took recourse to address the media, as it felt that it has been ignored in spite of its members being victims and some of them deposing before Justice Srikrishna Commission. 

The forum felt that the judiciary does not seem to think unbecoming conduct and violent behaviour by lawyers against ordinary citizens, action violating the law of the land and violating their oath of office, deserves immediate, demonstrable and stringent punishment. Instead, the judiciary chose to fulfill only the demands of the lawyer fraternity – to punish the police for what both the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court consider contempt of court / excesses. The forum felt that the interim order set a new precedent in judicial process, as a new concept of ‘judicial relief’ has been introduced as against ‘justice delivery’.

Listing the offences committed by the errant section of lawyers against their members and contending that it has sent an appeal to the Chief Justice of Madras High Court, the forum prayed that the Honourable Court act immediately to punish the lawyers guilty of violence, verbal abuse, unbecoming conduct and violation of the law of this land. Saying that failure on part of the High Court would send a wrong signal that well-organized violence and sustained misconduct would always pay rich dividends, it prayed to the Madras High Court to issue orders to the concerned associations and councils to de-bar advocates involved in these despicable acts, just as it had issued orders against senior police officers.

The onus lies on the state government and the judiciary. Here is a great opportunity to set right things, by adhering to the recommendations made by Justice Srikrishna with regard to amending the “Advocate Act,” formulating guidelines for the conduct of the lawyers, and ensuring implementation by all Courts in the country, so that ‘Rule of Law’ is established. 

The author is a senior journalist and lives in Chennai

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