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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

The lawyer-police clash: An unedifying spectacle | HT editorial

The clash in Delhi undermines faith in the system

editorials Updated: Nov 06, 2019 20:36 IST

Hindustan Times
Policemen protest after the last week’s clash with lawyers, New Delhi, November 5
Policemen protest after the last week’s clash with lawyers, New Delhi, November 5(REUTERS)
         

Both the police and lawyers are a law unto themselves in India, and with special privileges — as parking stickers on cars indicate. Sure, even lawyers in lower courts are relatively better off than the rank and file of the police staff, but, when compared to the common man, both can count themselves among India’s power elite. And, as expected, when two entitled entities clash, the outcome is rarely edifying.

Such clashes have happened before in Delhi in 1988, to a lesser level in 1997, and are now happening again. On Day 1, the two arms of the criminal justice system clashed in the Capital. If one side was trigger-happy, the other showed scant respect for the law and an inclination to perpetrate violence that was downright frightening. On Day 2, the lawyers took out their ire on policemen and also anyone who happened to be near a court (even a reporter of this paper was accosted by some). On Day 3, the police and their families protested, seeking action against the lawyers. On Day 4, it was the lawyers turn to protest and the Delhi High Court asked the police not to take coercive action against the lawyers for the original act of violence.

The worrying thing among all these happenings is that the entire criminal justice system in Delhi has ground to a halt, leaving cases in the courts hanging fire. The Capital, which is unsafe at the best of times, is now left with fewer policemen on their beats. In addition, commuters have also been affected as the protests on the roads by the police have affected traffic. This only undermines faith in a system which is already seen as compromised. Lawyers, as officers of the court, are bound by a code of conduct and should not have taken the law into their own hands — whatever the circumstances. And the police could have, on Day 1, definitely displayed more restraint. Surprisingly, neither has displayed any aversion to breaking the very law they are meant to uphold. Delhi definitely can’t afford to have its security compromised. Nor can it afford to have the wheels of justice grind to a halt.

Action must be taken against offending policemen and lawyers, both. The Bharatiya Janata Party is right in saying this should not be politicised, but it is futile to hope that the matter will be resolved amicably between the two parties. The home ministry and the government have to intervene to work out a mechanism where differences between two pillars of the criminal justice system do not descend into criminality and chaos.