The Bar Council of India’s decision to constitute a three-member committee to probe the attack on journalists by lawyers is being seen by senior advocates as a good beginning towards making the courts more secure for all. The committee is headed by former Chief Justice of Patna High Court L. Narasimha Reddy and comprises senior advocate of Supreme Court M.N. Krishnamani and a member of the Bar, S. Prabhakaran.
At its General Council meeting on February 22 the BCI had unequivocally apologized for the attack on journalists in the Patiala House premises, (where the High Court is located) and expressed its sadness at the beating of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar by “lawyers and outsiders”. It had also termed the hurling of abuses and projectiles on senior advocates sent by the Supreme Court to probe the violence “very unfortunate”. The apology came even as many lawyers in the General Council meeting sought to justify the violence against journalists and others as a “reaction.”
This was reflected in the post-General Council report which acknowledged that “members have said that any true citizen or a lawyer of India would react strongly to the slogans” that were allegedly raised in JNU; however it clarified that “such acts always deserve to be condemned and need to be opposed strongly.” The Bar Council followed up that meeting with the setting up of the Committee to look into the violence.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, asked by the Supreme Court to look into the attack, told The Wire, “Obviously this attack raised the issue as to whether this kind of behaviour by lawyers can ever take place on court premises. The Supreme Court is a fortress, but the geography of the Delhi high Court is such that you can’t convert it into a fortress. In Delhi high Court, anyone with a black gown can walk in. There is no stopping them. Nobody asks them for a card.” He said that the constitution of a committee by the Bar Council was a good first step.
Dhavan was also categorical that “the Bar Council should make it clear that protests on court premises are not to be accepted. And it should also make it clear that journalists have to be protected at all cost, even outside court premises, as they have a fundamental right under Article 19(1) A.”
Manan Kumar Mishra, chairman of the BCI, had last year spoken about how nearly 30 per cent lawyers were fake, and it was usually these who participated in agitations and protests. He has expressed regret at the physical attack on journalists, JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and the verbal assault on the Supreme Court constituted team of lawyers sent to the Patiala House Courts for probing the violence on the premises.
“These disgruntled and unruly advocates have downgraded the dignity and decorum of the legal profession. Shouting of slogans, use of abusive language against the members of the team (appointed by the apex court) and the alleged act of pelting stones on their vehicles is all really very serious misconduct,” Mishra said.
The General Council meeting of the Bar on February 21 had taken a more reactionary view of the developments. Here several of the 14 members who were present sought to portray the actions of the lawyers as little more than a reaction to some perceived wrongdoing.
“Some of the members were of the view that the conduct of the lawyers should be examined in the light of the background of the unfortunate incidents which took place in the Jawaharlal Nehru University as well as in Jadavpur University (West Bengal). However, the excesses committed by any advocate cannot be overlooked,” the resolution of the Bar said following the meeting.
As far as the manhandling of students or teachers of JNU was concerned, the resolution sought to justify it to some extent by saying that “several advocates of Patiala House Court campus have informed the Council that large number of outsiders, politicians, students and teachers from JNU had come on both February 15 and 17 by three or four buses and they had entered the court complex and there also they tried to shout slogans and used provocative words about the nation which led to the untoward incident.”