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The Ignoble Ways Of Legal Profession

To salvage the lost nobility of legal profession, it is necessary to send a strong message by throwing out the goons in gowns from the profession.

Lawyers often resort to the self-congratulatory pat that they are in the ‘noble-profession’. I distinctly remember my enrolment ceremony about seven years ago, when one of the then members of the Bar Council congratulated the young lawyers assembled there for choosing the ‘noble profession’. Justice J. Chelameswar, the then Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, while delivering the presidential address in the enrolment ceremony, however, clarified that law cannot claim any exceptional nobility over other professions, and reminded that it can remain noble only if it is carried out as per the ideals of the Constitution.  These words swelled my heart, and I felt reassured about my choice of profession.

The self-image of being the protectors of rule of law is necessary for lawyers to maintain their moral high ground; lest, lawyers will be regarded as mere mercenaries for their clients. At times, lawyers might fall short of keeping up with constitutional ideals, owing to personal short-comings and systemic constraints, and the legal fraternity feels apologetic about such failures.  Despite such occasional failures, lawyers still pride in being part of a noble profession, because they are striving for upholding rule of law to the best of their abilities.

But can we feel that sense of pride and self-esteem about our profession anymore, in the light of recent incidents? Of late, lawyers are in news for all wrong reasons. Incidents of lawyers being conscious participants in derailing the process of law by use of might of fist and numbers have become a disturbing and recurring trend. The legal profession hit its all-time low with the recent incident of some lawyers of Jammu Bar Association resorting to use of force and violence to prevent the filing of charge sheet in the Kathua rape-murder case of a minor girl.  The Crime Branch, which was carrying out the investigation into the rape-murder case under the monitoring of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court, was caught unawares when lawyers unleashed violence to block filing of charge-sheet. The lawyers, who are reportedly supporters of Hindu Ekta Munch which alleges that the investigation is not fair, created unruly scenes in the Court premises and called for a ‘bandh’ to protest the arrests. Deepika Singh, the lawyer representing the victim girl’s family stated that she was facing threats from the Bar Association. She complained that the Bar Association had boycotted her for taking up the case against the accused in Kathua rape-murder case.

 The images of lawyers going on a rampage, with some of them carrying the National Flag, to protest the arrest of accused brought great disrepute to the legal profession. So much so, the Supreme Court was forced to take suo moto cognizance of the agitation by lawyers, upon mentioning by certain conscientious members of the fraternity, who are now becoming a dwindling tribe.  Obstruction of the process of law and delivery of justice and that too by lawyers cannot be condoned and is unethical. Access to justice cannot be impeded by lawyers, the Supreme Court observed, while issuing notices to J&K Bar Council and Bar Association. It is highly regrettable that the Apex Court has been forced to make such observations on the character and conduct of members of the legal fraternity.

 The violence unleashed by lawyers of Jammu/Kathua bar is a déjà vu moment of a similarly shocking incident which happened in Patiala House Court Complex, New Delhi, during February 2016. There, self-styled ‘patriotic’ lawyers decided to take law unto their hands and assaulted Kanhaiya Kumar while he was brought before the Magistrate’s Court in connection with charges of sedition. The situation was so much out-of-control that the Supreme Court had to intervene by constituting a committee to oversee the security arrangements in the Patiala House Court complex. But even the SC-appointed committee could not save themselves from the abuses and blows showered by the lawyer-gang which behaved like a bunch of street goons. The Committee Report is vivid in its details of violence and is powerful enough to shock anyone with an iota of sense of justice present in mind.

The common feature in both these incidents is the invocation of nationalistic symbols by lawyer-thugs to justify violence. In Patiala House, the lawyer-thugs were shouting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ while attacking Kanhaiya Kumar. Some lawyers were caught bragging in a sting-video that they beat up Kanhaiya Kumar till he was forced to utter ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. The lawyers in Jammu were seen carrying the tricolor during their aggressive protest march against the arrest of accused. The unruly protesters feel that their demands are in consonance with the majoritarian-nationalistic sentiments. They know that their antics will appeal to the newly emerged class of patriots, who harbour a distorted sense of patriotism tailored by the current dominant socio-political forces. Hence these lawyer-thugs dare to use patriotic symbols with impunity. They do not feel that they are doing any wrong; much worse, they feel proud about their doings.  This is a highly dangerous signal, which should send waves of sthe hudder down the spines of all those who believe in constitutional morality. This means skewed patriotic sentiments of an unruly majority can undermine the due process envisaged by Constitution. How many times in the history of India have we witnessed the sight of National Flag being waved for shielding the arrest of those charged with rape-murder of a minor girl?

To add a caveat, all those who are named as accused in the charge-sheet are entitled to the presumption of innocence, until their guilt is proven after the rial. They are entitled to point out defects in the investigation. They are entitled to demand probe by another agency, if they feel the investigation is not fair. But, there is a process established by law for seeking all such demands. Our legal system is robust and capable enough to consider such demands on its merits. When lawyers themselves undermine due process of law to achieve their vested ends, it sends a wrong message to the society. How can the common man be expected to repose trust in the legal process, when learned members of the bar themselves display lack of faith in our own legal system?

It is heartening that the Supreme Court has chosen to intervene in the issue. But, let us hope that the righteous indignation shown by the Supreme Court will not fizzle out in due course, as it happened with Patiala House incident. Almost two years down the line, the Supreme Court, in an unfortunate decision, chose to refrain from proceeding against the unruly lawyers who were responsible for the terror situation by Patiala House Court. The Supreme Court closed the case, reportedly observing ‘we don’t want to flog a dead horse’. Let us hope that the Jammu-Kathua incident also does not end up as a dead horse some years down the line. To salvage the lost nobility of legal profession, it is necessary to send a strong message by throwing out the goons in gowns from the profession.   If the images of lawyers indulging in strong-arm tactics in streets do not appear as sickening and ignoble to you, then kindly refrain from using the self-congratulatory cliché  ‘law is a noble profession’ anymore!

Manu Sebastian is a Lawyer at High Court of Kerala.

[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]

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