For sometime past 'fixing judges' accountability has often been talked about, and one now hears of a new Bill to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament to address the issue. But, indeed, it concerns only one segment of the judicial system. What about the second segment, the lawyers, who together with judges make two indispensable wheels to keep the institution of the judiciary moving?
However, along with judges' accountability, we seldom hear about lawyers' accountability, and one wonders how much evenly balanced and credible the justice dispensation mechanism can really be with just judges' accountability, in courts and outside, but with no lawyers' accountability, in courts and outside.
Sadly, more and more unsavoury happenings often get reported by the media which reveal that the members of the legal profession, who fight zealously for upholding the rule of law in court rooms, ironically, give a damn to fair professional practices and, and are also overtaken by passions, like anger, and sometimes by violent anger, within or outside court premises.
Well, if the defenders of the law exhibit mob mentality, violate professional standards, take the law in their own hands, win Bar elections by adopting unethical means, or go on strikes in defiance of the apex court's ban to serve their own interests, but at litigants' cost, it surely causes cracks in the justice dispensation system and erodes people's faith in it. An institution and its constituents forfeit people's trust when they cease to command their natural respect. This well applies to the judicial system too.
Though the Union government is keen on giving place to an effective statutory mechanism to make judges accountable, there has certainly been no dearth of statutory mechanism to take deviant lawyers to task. Some 45 years back was enacted the Advocates Act, which bestowed on the legal profession an "autonomous" character with an inbuilt mechanism to regulate lawyers' conduct and punish those who go wayward.
However, there is little evidence that the Bar Councils, created by the Advocates Act, have ever exercised their will to suitably punish those lawyers who, by their acts of lawlessness in public or within court premises, shake the people's trust in the institution of judiciary.
Making laws to correct distortions in the society poses no difficulty, but such legislations, ironically, face ridicule as they are betrayed most by the implementing agencies. And so, one tends to feel that at the root of declining standards, either in the judiciary or in the Bar, is the institutional failure, something afflicting other systems too, and so, one wonders if mere statutory safeguards alone can now really put the system back onto rails.
Meanwhile, incidents of outburst of their passions by some lawyers against the presiding officers of courts have been increasing. In yet another case, a division bench of the Allahabad High Court, comprising Justice Imtiyaz Murtaza and Justice Ravindra Singh, recently awarded three-month imprisonment to Etawah lawyer VS Raghuvanshi on contempt of court charge. Raghuvanshi, in a fit of anger, had ascended on the dais of a judicial magistrate, hurled filthy abuses on him, snatched judicial papers from him, and also challenged the magistrate to complain against him to the High Court.
"Veiled threats, abrasive behaviour, use of disrespectful language and at times blatant condemnatory attacks are often designedly employed with a view to taming a judge into submission to secure a desired order…An advocate is not merely an agent or servant of the client, he is the 'officer' of the court. There can be nothing more serious than an act of advocate if it tends to obstruct or prevent the administration of law or destroys the confidence of the people in such administration," said the bench, citing a Supreme Court verdict, reported in (1991) 3 SCC 600.
Truly, mutual respect for each other on the part of judges and lawyers both is intrinsic to a healthy functioning of a court, and any deviation from it by either of the two creates problems. So, while there is now much focus on judges' accountability, it is equally important that the issue of lawyers' accountability also gets a top priority, and towards this, the voluntary Bar Associations and the statutory Bar Councils would do well to pay heed to the urgency of restoring to the Bar its socially responsible and respectable professionalism before it gets too late.