Law

As Vigilantism Reaches Supreme Court, Bench Orders Cops to Keep JNU Student Safe

Supreme Court. Credit: Shome Basu

Lawyers stand in front of the Supreme Court. Credit: Shome Basu

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday got a direct taste of the vigilantism it is seeking to curb in the lower courts when one advocate interrupted its hearing in the Kanhaiya Kumar case to shout ‘Vande Mataram’ and another denounced the proceedings, saying “When somebody attacks my motherland, I cannot keep quiet.”

“Mister, all of us are patriots here,” Justice J. Chelameswar responded sharply to the lawyer who said he could not keep quiet. “Nobody is willing to degrade the motherland. But if someone does, do you take law into your hands?” When the lawyer who had shouted in court, Rajeev Yadav, was produced before the bench, he apologised, saying, “I am so sorry, my lords. I could not contain myself.” Justice Chelameswar told the advocate, “Please don’t degrade this institution, for your own sake, for the sake of your country and your future generations. If you do it, nothing will remain.”

Later in the day, the bench of Justice Chelameswar and Justice A.M. Sapre ordered the Delhi police commissioner to ensure the personal safety of JNU student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and all those lawyers and journalists who were inside the Patiala Court hall when the sedition case against him is heard.

Team sent

The bench passed this order when a team of senior advocates sent by it to witness the ground reality in the Patiala court confirmed the fact that Kanhaiya was assaulted inside the court by an advocate despite the apex court’s order earlier in the day. The court sought a report from the police on the day’s incidents by 10.30 am on February 19.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan, Dushyant Dave and others informed the bench that in open defiance of the Supreme Court order, a group of men in lawyers’ robes barged into the Patiala House court complex and assaulted a journalist and Kanhaiya Kumar. They said the group, which was seen raising slogans like ‘Vande Mataram’ and waving the Indian flag in the court premises, was led by lawyer Vikram Chauhan.

The bench, while expressing serious concern over the developments, asked the members of the committee to submit a report on the day’s developments by 2 pm Thursday. The Delhi high court registrar general was also asked to give a report by Thursday afternoon. However, on the plea for shifting the venue of Kanhaiya Kumar’s trial outside Patiala House, the bench demurred, saying “We don’t want to send a wrong signal.”

In the morning, when the writ petition filed by JNU alumnus N.D. Jayaprakash was taken up, the bench in no uncertain terms condemned the violence unleashed by lawyers and politicians on innocent persons at the Patiala House court premises on February 15 during the hearing of the case against Kanhaiya.

Justice Chelameswar speaking for the bench said, “Moderation is a forgotten word today in all spheres of life… We are concerned today with open court proceedings, conduct of court with decorum and access to justice for all… All these considerations should be balanced. Extreme stand on either side is not good for democracy in this country.”

Petition to keep Kanhaiya safe

In his writ petition Jayaprakash sought appropriate directions to the respondents to ensure the proper and decorous conduct of the Patiala House court proceedings and to ensure access to justice to the accused. He said that on February 15, when the Kanhaiya Kumar was produced before the court, a lot of people gathered including the members of the legal fraternity, students and their “supporters” and a large number of media persons. Certain unpleasant and unacceptable incidents took place in the court premises, he said, adding that violence in the court amounted to the grossest contempt of court.

Endorsing the submissions of senior advocates, Justice Chelameswar observed, “Violence anywhere, not just in court premises, is unacceptable. In view of the incidents that occurred on February 15, apprehensions were expressed by counsel on behalf of the various interested groups – students, members of the press, general public, legal fraternity, etc. – that the proceedings may not go on in an atmosphere in which legal proceedings are normally expected to be conducted.”

The bench therefore ordered regulation of entry into the court hall where Kanhaiya was to be produced and directed the police commissioner to ensure their safe entry. After hearing two journalists, present in the court, the bench directed the entry of only five journalists in the trial court, and six lawyers representing the accused and prosecution. “Since the accused is a young student, we also deem it appropriate to permit the immediate family members of the accused, not exceeding four, on an identification by the accused. If such family members are not there, then one from the faculty and one from the student community identified by the accused shall be permitted into the court,” the bench said.

When two lawyers present in the courtroom sought to disrupt the proceedings, senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan pointed to the court that “if this is happening inside this courtroom, imagine what will be the situation outside”.

‘No blame-game’

When senior advocates KTS Tulsi and Rajeev Dhawan accused the Delhi Police of remaining “mute spectators”, Justice Chelameswar said, “There is no point engaging in a blame-game with anybody. Please remember it is easy to blame the police. If they intervene, you blame them and if they don’t you still blame them. Look what happened at Madras High Court two years ago. This court is not trying to justify the police, but only pointing out that police is also not in a comfortable position. We have noticed that whenever there is a sensational case, people crowd the courts, lead protest marches to the court even before the judicial proceedings start.”

Senior advocate Ajit Sinha, appearing for Delhi Police conceded before the bench that what happened on February 15 was “regrettable”.  He assured full protection in the Patiala court for the afternoon hearing.

However, around 2.30 pm, senior lawyers Indira Jaising and advocate Prashant Bhushan informed Justice Chelameswar that despite the apex court order, lawyers were seen attacking journalists and one of them had assaulted the accused. It was at this juncture that the bench appointed a team of six senior advocates – Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan, Harin Raval, Dushyant Dave, Raju Ramachandran  and A.D.N. Rao – along with Delhi Police counsel. They were sent to the Patiala House court under police escort.

They returned to the court around 4 pm. Sibal, Dave and Dhavan apprised the bench of what had happened in the Patiala House rial court and said even the team had great difficulty in entering the premises. Taking note of the submissions, the bench directed the police commissioner to ensure that the accused and others present in the trial court were brought out safely. While seeking reports the bench posted the matter for further hearing on Thursday.