Court asks for footage of police raid on lawyer appearing in riots cases
A Delhi court on Friday ordered the Special Cell of Delhi Police to produce the entire video footage of the raid conducted at the office of Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer associated with multiple cases in connection with the north-east Delhi riots who has alleged that the police action was aimed at preventing him from getting justice for those affected by the violence.
The court also directed the Investigating Officer (IO) to submit a status report on investigations against Pracha, who is being probed in an FIR relating to the alleged use of forged documents on judicial record in one of the riots matters. Citing a victim’s statement, police have also accused Pracha of tutoring victims to give false statements in riot-related cases – a charge he denies. Pracha is representing nearly 80 people in the Delhi riots cases.
Several senior legal experts members have contended that the action by the police could amount to a breach of attorney-client privilege given the related cases Pracha is appearing in, and described it as an attempt to create pressure on lawyers fighting for the rights of several riots victims and accused.
On Friday, Duty Magistrate Anshu Singhal took up two applications by Pracha, who contended that the Special Cell officials did not only breach the attorney-client privilege by taking away the entire data from the computers in his office but also violated the court order which specifically ordered the police to produce “forthwith” any evidence, if found, before the court.
The lawyer further relied upon Section 165(6) of the Criminal Procedure Code to assert that he was entitled in law to get a copy of the records, collected as evidence by the police.
Admitting his application, the magistrate sought production of record of the evidences taken during the raid and posted the matter for further hearing on December 27, and asked the Special Cell IO to come before it with the detailed footage.
Pracha also pressed for a court-monitored probe of the FIR against him, pointing out that the FIR was registered way back in August but the raid conducted now is with an ulterior design to deter him from appearing in riots cases.
On this, the magistrate asked the Special Cell IO to present a status report before the court concerned on January 5.
Speaking to HT after the hearing, Pracha said that the police have displayed an egregious example of lawlessness and illegalities under the guise of investigation into a forgery FIR registered against unknown persons.
“I am not even aware if I have been named as an accused or not in this FIR. It has been almost four months since registration of the FIR and there is no charge sheet till date. They took away details of all the cases and clients, which are privileged communication between a lawyer and his clients. If this is not a witch-hunt what else can be? I was assaulted but I am now being told that another FIR is lodged against me at the instance of the raiding team,” he said.
Meanwhile, Delhi Police on Friday confirmed that they have registered a case at Hazrat Nizamuddin police station against Pracha on charges of obstructing government officials from doing their duty. The police raid on Pracha’s office began around noon on Thursday and continued till 2.30am on Friday.
In response to Pracha’s allegation of assault by police personnel during the raid, deputy commissioner of police (special cell) Manshi Chandra denied the allegations. The officers said that police had a search warrant from the court to search locations of two lawyers. Police said that while the process went off smoothly at the premises of advocate Javed Ali in east Delhi, they faced stiff resistance at Pracha’s office.
Former additional solicitor general Indira Jaising condemned the raid at Pracha’s office, saying such actions will lead to a denial of justice to various accused and victims in the Delhi riots cases who are entitled to a free and fair trial.
“The omnibus raid is also an attack on the attorney-client privilege that Mr Pracha is entitled to, especially for those being represented by him in connection with the February riots cases. What has now happened with Mr Pracha appears to be a continuing trend of attacking the basic right of legal representation by attacking their lawyers,” added Jaising.
Advocate Rizwan, who represents suspended councillor Tahir Hussain, said that the raids conducted at Pracha’s office is unfortunate and is a deliberate attempt to create pressure on the lawyers representing the accused and victims of the Delhi riots. “Today, it is Pracha, tomorrow it can be someone else,” he said.