Rights

After CBI Files FIR, Lawyers Collective Calls It an Attack on Free Speech

The agency filed the FIR based on the home ministry's allegation of discrepancies in the utilisation of foreign aid received by the NGO.

New Delhi: After the CBI booked lawyer Anand Grover and his Mumbai-based Lawyers Collective organisation for alleged violation of rules in receiving foreign aid, the group said attempts were being made to “silence them [its office bearers] as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past”.

The agency filed the FIR on the basis of a complaint from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which has alleged several discrepancies in the utilisation of foreign aid received by the NGO.

The agency has booked Grover, the president of Lawyers Collective, and unidentified office-bearers of the organisation, besides unidentified officials.

Though the investigative agency did not name Grover’s wife and former additional solicitor general Indira Jaising in the FIR, the MHA’s complaint mentions allegations against her. The ministry claims that Jaising, as the ASG from 2009 to 2014, received remunerations from the foreign contributions received by Lawyers Collective.

Responding to the case, the organisation expressed “shock and outrage” at the CBI’s action. In a statement, it said the FIR is solely based on proceedings under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The MHA in 2016, cancelled the organisation’s FCRA license, which it has challenged before the Bombay high court.

“The FCRA proceedings were taken against it because its office bearers had taken up sensitive cases against the leading figures of the BJP and the Government of India, including Mr. Amit Shah, the present Home Minister, in the Sorabbudin case, amongst others”, Lawyers Collective said in a statement.

On the allegations levelled against Jaisingh, the group said her remuneration was permissible under the FCRA. “It was being paid by the LC was before she became the ASG and continued during and after her tenure in that capacity. Moreover she taken the permission of the Law Minister to continue to receive the remuneration under the Law Officers (Terms and Conditions) Rules, which has been admitted by the MHA,” the statement read.

Indira Jaising Photo: PTI

Recently, a PIL was filed by Lawyers Voice, a voluntary organisation of advocates, in the Supreme Court, alleging that the funds collected by Lawyers Collective were misutilised for “activities against the nation”.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta had issued a notice to Jaising, Grover and the MHA, asking them to file their responses to the allegations, including that the money received by Lawyers Collective was used to “influence political activities”.

Also Read: Indira Jaising, Anand Grover Allege Victimisation for Speaking out Against CJI

The Lawyers Collective statement refers to this PIL, saying “Lawyers Voice comprises lawyers from the BJP” and its “main protagonist”, Neeraj, is the head of the legal cell of the BJP in Delhi. “The organization clams it has no income and no PAN card, a mandatory requirement for filing a PIL,” Lawyers Collective said.

The statement says that office bearers of the Lawyers Collective have “been vocal on the subversion of due process of law in the Courts in the matter of the alleged sexual harassment by a former employees of the Supreme Court of India”. Therefore, it suspected that the officer bearers were “personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora”.

“The LC sees this as a blatant attack of the right to representation of all persons, particularly the marginalised and those who dissent in their views form the ruling party. It is also an attack in the right to free speech and expression and an attack on the legal profession as such.”

It concluded by saying that the FIR has “no basis in fact and law”. “It is to target the Lawyers Collective and its office bearers to silence them as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past, and continue to take then up. The Lawyers Collective is seeking competent advise and will defend themselves in accordance with law in every forum,” the statement reads.

The complete statement has been reproduced below.

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The Lawyers Collective (“LC”) and its Trustees including founding members – Anand Grover and Indira Jaising express shock and outrage at the action of the CBI in registering an FIR against them. The FIR is solely based on proceedings under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, (“FCRA”) in which orders for suspension and cancellation of LC’s registration to receive foreign funding were passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (“MHA”) in 2016, which LC has challenged by way of appeal before the Bombay High Court. The Appeal is pending.

Even at that time, LC had pointed out that the FCRA proceedings were taken against it because its office bearers had taken up sensitive cases against the leading figures of the BJP and the Government of India, including Mr. Amit Shah, the present Home Minister, in the Sorabbudin case, amongst others.

Moreover the LC pointed out that there were no basis in the allegation. For example, apart from the fact that Ms. Jaising remuneration was permissible under the FCRA, it was being paid by the LC was before she became the ASG and continued during and after her tenure in that capacity. Moreover she taken the permission of the Law Minister to continue to receive the remuneration under the Law Officers (Terms and Conditions) Rules, which has been admitted by the MHA. The allegation of the MHA was premised on the assumption that as the ASG Ms. Jaising was a government servant, which she was not. Thus this can hardly be the basis of alleged offences under the PC ACT. Similarly, expenses reimbursed to Mr. Anand Grover were permissible under the FCRA and regulations under it. All such submissions were simply ignored by the MHA. That is why an appeal was filed in the Bombay High Court which passed interim orders noting that the submissions made by the MHA were vague.

For nearly two and half years, the CBI, functioning under an NDA regime did not think it fit to register any criminal cases against the Lawyers Collective and/or its office bearers, since there was no criminality involved. There has been no change in circumstances or material on record since 2016 and hence the question arises what has changed between 2016 and 2019. There is no material to show that any of the provisions invoked under the under the IPC, PC Act have any basis.

The FIR has been registered after the petition was filed by Lawyers Voice in the Supreme Court. The Lawyers Voice comprises lawyers from the BJP and its main protagonist is Mr. Neeraj is the head of the Legal Cell of the BJP in Delhi. The organization clams it has no income and no PAN card, a mandatory requirement for filing a PIL. When the Petition was filed the LC pointed out in a press statement that the petition did not have the basic averments of a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, and therefore was not maintainable. We have expressed our surprise that notice on the Petition was issued at all in the said Petition.

In the immediate past, the office bearers of the LC have represented the persons detained in the Bhima Koregaon case, the Police Commissioner of West Bengal, Rajiv Kumar and while not commenting on the merits of the case, have been vocal on the subversion of due process of law in the Courts in the matter of the alleged sexual harassment by a former employees of the Supreme Court of India.

The LC has reason to believe that its officer bearers are personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora more particularly in their capacity as Senior lawyers in court. The LC sees this as a blatant attack of the right to representation of all persons, particularly the marginalised and those who dissent in their views form the ruling party. It is also an attack in the right to free speech and expression and an attack on the legal profession as such. The right to legal representation is a guaranteed fundamental right under the Constitution of Indian and is part of the jurisprudence of every civilised country of the world.

The Lawyers Collective believes that the FIR has no basis in fact and law. It is to target the Lawyers Collective and its office bearers to silence them as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past, and continue to take then up. The Lawyers Collective is seeking competent advise and will defend themselves in accordance with law in every forum.