The Tis Hazari violence has hurt the legal profession
For lawyers to insist on the arrest of police officers as a precondition to call off the strike is not legally justifiedUpdated: Nov 07, 2019 19:25 IST
When we began practice in Tis Hazari three decades ago, Saturdays in the court were very quiet. Last Saturday (November 2), things were different. The area outside the judicial lock-up — a high security area — saw a dreadful outbreak of violence between lawyers and the police, ostensibly over parking slots. Serious injuries were sustained by both the lawyers and police personnel — and two lawyers suffered bullet injuries. Videos of arson, destruction of public property and serious injuries to both sides have been doing the rounds since that afternoon. It does not help that some people have been politicising the issue, accusing the police of brutality. On Sunday, the Delhi High Court issued sweeping directions protecting the lawyers from coercive action— in effect, preventing their arrests. A commission of inquiry was also set up by the court, headed by a former high court Judge. FIRs have been registered both on the complaints of the police and lawyers.
There has since been a strike in the trial courts across Delhi, which shows no sign of ending. High court lawyers in support of their trial court colleagues abstained from work on November 4. Litigants seeking relief and bail continue to languish in custody. The police retaliated by holding an unprecedented dharna outside the police headquarters on November 5. Both sides seem to have adopted a confrontationist approach. The Bar Council of India intervened on November 6 and requested the advocates to call off the strike but its voice of reason is not being heard.
Advocates are governed by the bar council’s rules on ethics that require them to comport themselves in a manner befitting their status as officers of the court, privileged members of the community, and also bearing in mind that what may be lawful and moral for a person who is not a lawyer, may be improper for an advocate. It is these values , among others, that make lawyers part of a noble profession. In the past few days, there have been random incidents of altercations involving lawyers, reported in the Capital, that have tarnished the reputation of the legal community.
In any civilised society, violence of any kind cannot be condoned. Our legal community and its leadership, especially those heading the bar associations have to take stock of the situation. It is not for lawyers to resort to extra legal means or strikes that have been declared unlawful by the Supreme Court in the past. During such strikes, it is the litigants who suffer the most. The prerogative to arrest an offender is not with the courts and is based on the discretion of the police. For lawyers associations to insist on the arrest of police officers as a precondition to call off the strike is not legally justified. A logical solution is to seek a transfer of the investigation or a court-monitored investigation.
The Delhi High Court having stepped in and the judicial commission of inquiry having already begun its work, it is for the leadership of the bar and the political executive in the city (and the Centre) to act sagaciously to resolve matters and bring normalcy to Delhi and its courts.
We are a society ruled by law. It is time that every citizen and every stakeholder in the criminal justice system — lawyers and policemen alike — appreciate the importance of the law and legal institutions. Lawyers, who on a daily basis professionally advise others to seek recourse to legal methods must follow their own advice even more strictly and withdraw this strike immediately. Access to justice is a fundamental right under the Constitution and the courts must ensure that it is not denied.
Finally, on to the issue that started it all — civic infrastructure (parking in this case). It is important to review the planning, infrastructure and location of courts. Traffic snarls in and around courts inconvenience lawyers, litigants, neighbouring residents and commuters. There must be efforts made by the court administration and civic agencies to decongest and to create adequate infrastructure including parking.
The police, whose role is to protect this city, must not be put in a situation where they are forced to take to the streets of the Capital to seek protection from a section of its residents.
Sidharth Luthra is senior advocate, Supreme Court
The views expressed are personal