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Who Needs Goons When You Have Lawyers?

16/03/2016 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 15: A group of lawyers allegedly thrashed protesters and journalists inside the Patiala House Court premises on Monday afternoon, on February 15, 2016 in New Delhi, India. The students and journalists had gone to the court for the bail hearing of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly raising anti-India slogans. The escalating stand-off over the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges today saw the students going on strike demanding his immediate release. Scuffle broke out in Patiala House court when JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was being produced. The court ruled that JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar will stay in custody for two more days. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Article 22(2) of the Indian Constitution gives a person facing jail the fundamental right to be produced before a judicial magistrate within the 24 hours immediately following his arrest. On 17 February, while the JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar was being produced by the police before the judicial magistrate in Patiala House court, he was suddenly attacked and manhandled by a group of lawyers. Other supporters of Kanhaiya who were present, including students and teachers, were also not spared. Many journalists who were patiently waiting in the court premises to cover the sensational case also found themselves at the receiving end of the ire of the mob of lawyers.

Such behaviour, especially by lawyers, raises some important questions that need immediate addressing: Are lawyers above the law? Can they be allowed to act like goons and take the law in their own hands?

Such incidents signal a complete breakdown of the law enforcement mechanism of our nation.

On the same day, a two judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Abhay Manohar Sapre, expressed their dismay, "Let the courts decide if anyone is anti-national or not. No one can take the law into their own hands." The judges also warned the lawyers of the nation, "Protect this institution for your country. For future generations if not for this case."

Out of the three lawyers who were seen leading the angry mob at the Patiala House court, two were arrested in the days to follow and were, perhaps not surprisingly, promptly granted bail. To add to the mayhem, in a sting conducted by a television channel thereafter, the said lawyers were seen bragging about how they beat Kanhaiya Kumar until he wet his trousers. Taking strict note of this brazen behaviour, the Supreme Court on 26 February issued a notice to the Centre seeking the response of the government on a plea raised by a senior advocate for the initiation of an SIT probe and criminal contempt proceedings against the accused lawyers.

While the raising of anti-national slogans in a prestigious educational institution is not something to be encouraged, what is even more disturbing is the behaviour of the lawyers who terrorized the students. The police, too, hesitated to take any steps to curb the violence that broke out that day. Such incidents signal a complete breakdown of the law enforcement mechanism of our nation.

Whether he is appearing for the defence or the prosecution, an officer of the court is duty-bound to ensure that his conduct is at all times 'impeccable'.

Every lawyer who is worth his salt knows that he is first of all an officer of the court. It is his foremost duty to assist the court in proper dispensation of justice. Whether he is appearing for the defence or the prosecution, an officer of the court is duty-bound to ensure that his conduct within and outside the court premises is at all times 'impeccable'.

Recently, a bench of Justices Najmi Waziri and Ashutosh Kumar of the Delhi High Court, in the days following the Patiala House incident, held a rather 'unruly' lawyer guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced him to a month in prison for his misbehaviour (the lawyer in question has appealed to the Supreme Court since). Incidentally, particular lawyer's behaviour over the years has led to several judges recusing themselves. The High Court bench did not mince words, saying, "Advocates are required to conduct themselves at all times as gentlemen; this conduct assumes greater significance in a court of law when he/she stands to assist the court".

At this significant juncture of history, it is essential for lawyers to unite together as good citizens and set an example for all...

In the Patiala House incident, several provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, are applicable, including Section 147 (rioting), Section 149 (unlawful assembly), Section 160 (fighting in a public place), Section 323 (causing hurt), Section 394 (robbery) and Section 427 (destruction of property), Section 354 (assault or use of criminal force against a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty) and Section 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).

At this significant juncture of history, it is essential for lawyers to unite together as good citizens and set an example for all so that the trust placed in them by the common person is restored.

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