The Growing Lawlessness of India’s Lawyers

As the attacks on Kanhaiya Kumar, his supporters and the media show, many lawyers are increasingly resorting to violence as a quick route to fulfil political aspirations.

Kanhaiya Kumar was attacked by lawyers while being brought to court. Credit: ANI screengrab.

Kanhaiya Kumar was attacked by lawyers while being brought to court. Credit: ANI screengrab.

New Delhi: From being involved in attacks on those accused of terrorist attacks and serious crimes, to taking on members of their own fraternity representing such accused, indulging in arson and even attacking media personnel covering court proceedings, lawyers have over the past decade or so become more belligerent than ever.

The latest attack by a group of lawyers on journalists covering the case of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar at the Patiala House Court points to the growing intolerance among a section of the legal fraternity.

While some senior advocates see these attacks as aberrations, especially since there are about 1.3 million lawyers across the country, others believe that media coverage, the quick rise to fame (or infamy), and political aspirations and protection are some of the reasons that make lawyers take the law into their own hands.

“Most of these lawyers who indulge in violence have political protection and just want to create a nuisance. With extremist organisations – mostly right wing – on their side, they feel emboldened. They also know that either no case would be registered against them or it will fall through as no one would take it up for prosecution, for fear of being attacked,” said senior Delhi high court advocate Ashok Agarwal.

Unfortunately, since such violent lawyers are also the ones with political ambitions and connections, they invariably get away without major censure from their bar councils, Agarwal adds. “I recall how once some lawyers had danced before a lady judge and insulted her and yet they were let off without any major punishment.”

Sometimes in their eagerness to run their writ, the lawyers even attack people from their own fraternity. “One such incident had happened in Delhi about three decades ago when an advocate, Nityanand, was allegedly murdered by a clerk. The lawyers did not want anyone to represent the accused and had attacked the advocate, Gurcharan Singh, who had taken the brief. Finally, he too gave up and the case had to be shifted to Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh,” Agarwal remembers.

Often, some of the lawyers are known to take up a “nationalist” stance when it comes to cases of terrorism or sedition – the JNU case being one such instance. But Agarwal doubts their real intent. “These attacks appear more politically motivated.”

A recent history of violence

In the past too, lawyers have often resorted to violence to have their say. Some of these attacks stand out in public memory.

In January 2007, a group of lawyers and members of the public attacked Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Koli, accused in the serial killings at Nithari in Noida, while they were being produced in a Ghaziabad court. Although the police had booked six lawyers for the crime, the bar council had denied the involvement of any of its members. Few spoke up then against the conduct of the lawyers as the issue involved a ghastly crime.

Later that year, three towns in Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad – were rocked by six consecutive blasts that left over a score dead. As it turned out, according to the government, the explosions were allegedly targeted at advocates present in the court premises because they had in the past resorted to violence against those accused in terror cases. The then UP principal secretary home had categorically claimed that the blasts were targeted at lawyers. He referred to how three of the alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad militants picked up from Delhi had been assaulted by some lawyers while being produced in a Varanasi court in connection with the Sankatmochan temple blast case in 2006 and the blasts were aimed at avenging the assault.

Despite this revelation, the lawyers in UP did not end such attacks. In 2013, a group of lawyers attacked Mohammad Saleem, an advocate, and ransacked the chambers of three other advocates who were defending the accused in the UP serial blasts case. Saleem had to be hospitalised for severe injuries.

It is not in north India alone that lawyers have occasionally gone on a rampage. Only last year, the chief justice of India, HL Dattu expressed anguish in open court while hearing the matter pertaining to violence indulged in by lawyers at Madras high court. The lawyers were demanding that Tamil be made the official court language.

The chief justice lamented the fact that due to the actions of the lawyers, “Madras high court judges preside in courts with fear psychosis expecting mobs to come in and attack them at anytime.”

Expressing concern, he noted, “It was once a traditional court that we all looked up to. Never before has it fallen to such low levels.”

The exasperation of the legal fraternity with the violent actions of some lawyers also found expression when the Chief Justice called into question the role of the bar association and council for remaining silent when the lawyers were on a rampage.

In an attempt to provide an explanation for such behaviour, Bar Council of India Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra had last year said that 30% of all lawyers in India are fake and they are the ones mostly involved in strikes and boycotts witnessed over petty issues.

But if these are the very men involved in violence in and around courts, nobody can say for sure. Especially not in New Delhi.