The violence against JNU students and journalists allegedly by lawyers at Patiala House Courts in the heart of the capital has turned the spotlight back on the conduct of men in black who often hit headlines for wrong reasons.
What happened at Patiala House Courts during this week is not an isolated incident of advocates venting their ire in a manner that does not behove a profession that is dedicated to upholding the rule of law.
Lawyers were at the forefront of India’s freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, to name a few. Even today, lawyers are holding prominent positions in the government at the Centre and in various states. But some of the recent incidents involving advocates give a somewhat different impression.
JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar is accused of sedition in connection with a protest on the university campus where anti-India slogans were raised. The rule of law demands that he is given a fair trial in an atmosphere free from fear.
But the advocates who allegedly attacked him seem to have forgotten the most important mantra of criminal jurisprudence, i.e. an accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Such violent incidents are not new to Delhi. On February 17, 1988, a 2000-strong mob, including lawyers, turned violent at the Tis Hazari Courts after IPS officer Kiran Bedi arrested a lawyer. But the disturbing trend has been witnessed elsewhere as well.
Earlier this month, lawyers in Lucknow went on a rampage, burning vehicles and attacking police, public and journalists during their protest against the alleged murder of a colleague.
Last year, the degree of violence by lawyers demanding Tamil to be allowed as the medium at the Madras High Court was such that the judges over there were finding it difficult to conduct court proceedings. Finally, the High Court ordered deployment of CISF personnel to replace state police at the court complex in Chennai.
The Supreme Court refused to interfere with the HC order saying, “The Chief Justice (of the High Court) and judges are entitled to say that the police are ineffective. You cannot allow the institution to be held to ransom. We will not allow this to happen.”
A bench headed by Justice TS Thakur (now CJI) said: “They (judges) felt they are totally insecure with the local police. They have asked CISF to step in. If CISF also fails then other forces may be asked to be called.”
Then CJI HL Dattu had said: “There is a fear psychosis in the court halls as the judges are on constant lookout for the mob to come in. This is very strange since Madras high court in the past is known to have set high traditions for lawyers.”
The Bar Council of India (BCI) had to suspend licences of 24 lawyers and transfer the disciplinary proceedings against them to Karnataka State Bar Council as the atmosphere was not conducive in Tamil Nadu.
BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has ordered a probe and promised to take stern action against those found guilty.
Last year, Mishra had said that 30% of all lawyers in India were fake, holding fraudulent law degrees. The probe against former Delhi law minister Jitendra Tomar for holding a fake law degree could be just a tip of the iceberg.
To weed out criminal elements from the legal profession, Mishra said, BCI has framed Verification Rules 2015 under which educational certificates of lawyers and their criminal antecedents were being checked and action taken.