Delhi riots: AAP govt rejects lawyers proposed by police
The Delhi government appeared headed for another flashpoint with the Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday after it rejected a panel of lawyers proposed by the Delhi Police in cases linked to the deadly communal riots and the anti-CAA protests in the Capital earlier this year, citing the need for a “free and fair” trial over the violence.
In February, 53 people died in communal riots triggered by violent clashes between the supporters and opponents of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA. Cases are currently being argued in the Supreme Court and the high court in cases related to the riots.
The decision to reject the lawyers’ panel backed by LG Anil Baijal was taken at a meeting of the Delhi cabinet, chaired by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The cabinet rejected the panel on the grounds that the courts have raised “serious questions” on the “fairness” of the riots investigation, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government said in a statement. “The cabinet also observed that in such a situation a free and fair trial of these cases would not be possible by a panel of lawyers selected by the Delhi Police itself,” it said. It directed the home department to constitute an “impartial panel of the best possible lawyers in the country” to fight the cases.
Tuesday’s meeting was held on the direction of LG Baijal, who, in a letter to Kejriwal on July 16, gave the Delhi government a week’s time to decide on the panel of lawyers it wanted to appoint to fight the cases. On July 10, the Delhi Police sent a proposal to the Delhi government, recommending the names of six special public prosecutors, including solicitor general Tushar Mehta and additional solicitor general Aman Lekhi to fight 85 cases related to the riots and clashes during protests against CAA.
LG Baijal’s office declined to comment on the matter.
On July 18, the LG’s office, in a statement on the same matter, said the north-east riots and the anti-CAA protest cases are of “highly sensitive nature” as they involved large-scale communal violence and require careful handling in view of the gravity and deep impact on the society.
The Delhi government later said that anyone who was guilty of causing communal violence in the Capital should be punished severely, but in no case should the innocent be harassed.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, while rejecting the idea of the panel proposed by the Delhi Police, earlier demanded that the Delhi government’s team of lawyers led by Rahul Mehra be assigned the task.
Tuesday’s Cabinet note, seen by HT, rejected the LG’s view of going with the Delhi Police’s panel on three grounds: allegations against the Delhi Police that its investigation in these cases was biased; lawyers should be independent of the police; and the matter does not qualify as “rarest of the rare” case for the LG to interfere.
“The judiciary has also made adverse remarks against Delhi Police’s investigations on several occasions… Therefore, in order to ensure that all facts are presented before the judges, it is extremely critical that the government advocates are independent of the Police. Therefore, the panel suggested by Delhi Police should be rejected,” the Cabinet note said.
It observed that it is the “basic principle of criminal jurisprudence” that investigations should be completely independent of prosecution and the police should not be allowed to decide the lawyers in any case. The Cabinet also alleged “repeated interference” by the LG in appointing the panel of lawyers. It asserted the Delhi government has the right to appoint public prosecutors.
“The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in its order dated July 4, 2018, has repeatedly mentioned that the LG should use this power in ‘rarest of rare cases’. Which lawyer should represent a case - this matter certainly cannot qualify as ‘rarest of rare case’,” the Cabinet note read.
A senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that as per the procedure, the next step in the matter will be that the LG will send it to President Ram Nath Kovind.
The latest run-in comes barely a month after the LG and the Delhi government disagreed over the appointment of 11 public prosecutors proposed by the Delhi Police in lower courts for over 750 riot cases. The LG then decided to refer the matter to the President, citing a “difference of opinion”. Following the move, then home minister Satyendar Jain had approved the Delhi Police’s panel.
Responding to the government’s statement on Tuesday, the Delhi Police said it will leave no stone unturned to ensure successful prosecution in the riots cases. “Delhi Police has conducted the investigation of N-E riot cases in a fair and impartial manner and to improve the quality of prosecution it has recommended the panel of senior law officers for the post of special prosecutors under section 24(8) of CrPC for group of anti-CAA and N-E riot-related important cases,” said Delhi Police spokesperson MS Randhawa.