Imagine a robed lawyer barging into an open court room, exhorting his colleagues to support an ongoing boycott campaign against judges, then telling the Bench: “If you have guts, take action against me.” Well, you don’t have to imagine. It actually happened in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court not long ago.
In Delhi’s Patiala court compound, the world watched in amazement as lawyers attacked student leaders, policemen and journalists. Senior lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the matter were also attacked. The violent lawyers were later seen boasting about their violence.
Bangalore still shudders with the memory of lawyers fighting pitched battles against policemen, press reporters and sundry onlookers. A judge was among some 90 people who were injured when the lawyers hurled chairs, smashed vehicles, set a police post on fire, threw water-bottles and bricks and helmets at whoever came within throwing range.
Across Kerala last month, lawyers have been gunning for journalists. There were fisticuffs and shouting of unprintable slogans. Police kept a safe distance. Judges made little effort to assert their overriding powers in court premises, even when the media room in the high court building was locked up under lawyer pressure.
These are unparalleled happenings in the history of India, or any democracy for that matter. Some of the world’s most learned and respected lawyers are Indian. Think of Palkhiwala, think of Parasaran. This tradition of eminence, scholarship and integrity is being eroded—erased?—by a callous bunch of lawyers who resort to rowdyism to push private agendas. In Delhi, the agenda was cheap politics. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, it is cheap ego.
The prolonged war of attrition between the Bench and the Bar in the Madras High Court forced a judge to warn that dispensation of justice would be difficult if “shouting slogans against judges and making abusive comments in open court” continued. In May this year, the state amended the Advocates Act to debar lawyers found guilty of offences such as “browbeating and/or abusing” a judge. The lawyers saw this as another provocation and intensified their fight saying “we cannot practice without fear”. At one stage, judges asked for special CISF protection for courts.
Curiously, lawyer violence in Karnataka and Kerala was sparked by anger against the police, then turned against reporters. A lawyer in Bangalore was stopped by the police for riding pillion with three others on a bike. The association of lawyers took up cudgels against the police over this action, called for a strike which created traffic chaos in some parts of the city. The media reported this. Whereupon the lawyers turned against the media.
Kerala events unfolded in copycat style. A government lawyer took liberties with a young woman on a public road and, following the woman’s complaint, the police arrested him. The lawyers objected. The media reported this, including some details of the woman’s complaint. Whereupon the irate lawyers turned against the media with a fury that took everyone in the state by surprise.
In Kerala of course everything is mixed up with politics. A big lawyer, associated with the ruling CPI(M) leaders, was appointed advisor to the chief minister. That did not prevent him from appearing in a case against the government to defend a notorious lottery operator. Public criticism forced the big lawyer to decline the advisor post. The media reported all this, making the big lawyer turn hostile to the media. The general feeling that the big lawyer’s influence was a factor in the attacks against journalists was reinforced by comments made by his friend, the chief minister, at a press meet. Asked about the beating up of reporters, he said, “Don’t go there to beat up or be beaten up.” He then laughed at his own joke.
That being the standard of jokes and ethics in our country, the only way to ensure smooth functioning of courts, newspapers and police stations is to recognise the new fundamental rights of lawyers: The right to abuse judges in open court; the right to attack accused being produced in court; the right to beat up opponents of the political party the lawyers support; the right to ride illegally, and dangerously, overloaded bikes; the right to grab any woman walking along the road; to sum up a whole new philosophy of civilisation—the right of lawyers to break the law.
Honest lawyers, proud of their profession, must be crying in silence. The rest of India cries with them.