8 Nov 2009

High Court finds police guilty for atrocities on lawyers

In an elaborately written decision spanning nearly over 200 pages, the Madras High Court has found the police authorities to be guilty for having committed atrocities on lawyers in the premises of the High Court in the widely reported clashes in February this year. A major part of the decision narrates the facts in extensio, no single bit of detail has been spared. However the remarks of the High Court are no less scathing. The High Court has not restrained itself to pin-point the responsibility on the higher ranks of police authorities in much as the decision states as under;
It was a pity that while according to the Commissioner of Police the threat was to the lives of huge number of people and the High Court was bustling with activities since the advocates started attending Courts after withdrawing the boycott on 19.02.2009, instead of allowing such activities to remain without any disturbance, the act of the police themselves in having chosen to allow the process of surrender of accused to take place in a more vulnerable situation that too by gathering nearly 421 policemen, the Commissioner of Police has miserably failed in his responsibilities and duty to protect the interest of public and instead made himself responsible for the most imprudent act of creating a situation of lawlessness which ultimately resulted in very ghastly incident to take place inside the High Court premises and thereby creating a blot on the institution namely the Judiciary. We therefore hold that the root cause for the unsavoury incident that took place on 19.02.2009, was the promptitude of the accused Advocates led by Mr.R.Karuppan who offered to surrender themselves. We further hold that by the  imprudent act of the police in having encouraged the offer of surrender to take place insider the High Court campus, the high level police officers, namely, the Commissioner of Police, the Additional Commissioner of Police, the jurisdictional Joint Commissioner of Police and the jurisdiction Deputy Commissioner of Police, sowed the seed for the ghastly incident. As far as Question No.(i) is concerned, though as claimed by Ms.R.Vaigai that the Judiciary is also entitled for the extent of immunity i.e. Available to the Parliament cannot be accepted, in the same breath, it will have to be stated that Judiciary as a constitutional machinery is entitled for higher amount of protection and safety and therefore the other wings of the State have to display utmost restraint while carrying out their operations inside the premises of the institution. Consequently when such other institution like police or executive want to deal with the said institution, they are bound to get necessary instructions and if necessary permission for carrying out any of their activities which would otherwise cause prejudice to the institution. 
The incident, as unraveled chronologically in the decision, has been described as under;

... The members of the Bar went on an indefinite boycott of Courts on and from 29.01.2009, alleging that the Government was not taking any action to stop the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka. As part of their agitation, some lawyers entered the First Court presided over by the Hon ble Acting Chief Justice where some of the lawyers who were attending to their cases were asked to join the boycott. ... Several other incidents as part of agitation of the lawyers was also reported on various dates. ... On 17.02.2009, Dr.Subramaniam Swamy as party-in-person stated to have appeared before the Bench presided over by Hon ble Mr.Justice P.K.Misra and Hon ble Mr.Justice K.Chandru, for getting himself impleaded in a case related to a temple situated at Chidambaram. Around 11.45 a.m. some of the agitating lawyers stated to have entered the Court Hall of Hon ble Mr.Justice P.K.Misra Bench and apart from abusing and assaulting Dr.Subramaniam Swamy, stated to have thrown eggs at him, under the direct gaze of the Hon ble Judges. In fact the Judges frowned upon the misbehaviour of all those lawyers and recorded the same in their order dated 17.02.2009. A copy of which was forwarded to the Hon ble Acting Chief Justice for appropriate action and the Registry was also directed to send a copy of the said order to the Hon ble Chief Justice of India.
The then Commissioner of Police addressed a communication dated 17.02.2009, to the Registrar General pointing out the unsavory incident that took place in Court Hall No.3 and sought for the concurrence to register a criminal case and set the criminal law in motion against those advocates. The Registrar General by a communication dated 18.02.2009, informed the Commissioner of Police that it is for the police to register any criminal case on its own and the concurrence of the Registry is not required in law. ...
On 19.02.2009, according to the Commissioner of Police, there was a specific intelligence input from the Intelligence Section of the City Police and the State Special Branch CID that the advocates who were involved in the incident on 17.02.2009, in the 3rd Court Hall would create serious problems when Dr. Subramaniam Swamy was scheduled to visit the High Court in connection with a matter before the Hon ble Acting Chief Justice and in the 21st Court. (therefore) On 19.02.2009, the Commissioner of Police arranged for a heavy police guard in the High Court campus in order to ensure that no untoward incident takes place at the time of the visit of Dr.Subramaniam Swamy. ...
... A reference to the order of the Full Bench dated 19.02.2009, discloses that when the Court was in session, at about 3.30 to 3.45 pm., on hearing unusual noise, when enquiries were made, the Court was informed that large number of special police (Riot Police) personnel with lathis or guns have entered the Court premises and were pelting stones on the lawyers apart from making lathi charge. The vehicles parked inside the Court campus were stated to have been smashed in the process. The Hon ble Acting Chief Justice was stated to have immediately contacted the Commissioner of Police and the Chief Secretary over phone and directed them to remove the police force immediately from the High Court campus in as much as it entered without the permission of the Court or the Acting Chief Justice. Many of the learned Judges who also raised from the Court stated to have witnessed the gory incident. The Court was also informed about the assault on the Hon ble Mr. Justice A.C.Arumugaperumal Adityan. The order also states that the police were found chasing the persons inside the Court Halls and lathi charged the lawyers, staff and others. The situation was stated to have been beyond control and that the police force did not go out of the campus while the Commissioner of Police telephonically informed that he is in the Police Station and trying to get the police out of the campus. Subsequently, though the Commissioner of Police informed the Court that the police personnel have been removed from the campus, they were chasing the advocates who were coming outside the Court campus by beating them mercilessly. At about 5.30 5.45 pm it is stated that the Court learnt the police force had gone outside the campus. At that point of time, B-4 Police Station was stated to have been set on fire and on a query, the Commissioner of Police alleged that the advocates set fire to the Police Station while many of the lady lawyers present in the Court Hall and others informed that the police themselves set fire to the Police Station and were throwing the blame on the lawyers.
On these facts, the High Court suo motu began action to inquire in the cause of the incidents and to determine the persons responsible for the havoc. In the meanwhile the Supreme Court appointed a One Man Committee headed by Hon ble Mr.Justice B.N.Srikrishna, former Judge of the Supreme Court to enquire into the incident which happened on 19.02.2009. The Committee was to initially consider whether any immediate action is called for against the police
officers who allegedly allowed armed policemen to enter the premises of the High Court without permission of the Acting Chief Justice and file an interim report.

In this backdrop, noting with emphatically the aftermath of the incidents, the High Court observed,
It can be stated with authority that in the history of judicial functioning, such a disruption of Court proceedings to the magnitude to which it had taken place consequent to the ghastly incident that happened on 19.02.2009, had not occured. The factum of non-functioning of the whole of judicial institutions throughout the State for at least three days only mean that the judiciary was paralyzed and was made immobile for no fault of it. Due to the non-functioning of the judicial forum and thereby depriving of any common man to have access to the judicial institutions for redressal of his grievance, to be stated in the most humble manner was that the judiciary impliedly expressed its helplessness to extend its helping hand to any one who was really in need of judicial intervention seeking justice. Therefore, when the consequence that resulted by virtue of the occurrence that took place on 19.02.2009 is examined, there can be no two opinion that whomsoever was responsible for creating such a situation cannot be dealt with lightly or any leniency can be shown to such person/persons as otherwise it would only give a wrong signal that one can carryout any unsavoury operation of very high magnitude unmindful of the consequences and can get away with it by shifting the responsibility on others or by referring to very many circumstances as the cause for such ghastly incident.
The highest judicial forum of this State in whose premises such a ghastly incident was allowed to take place cannot be lightly ignored or dealt with, as it will not be in the interest of public at large to allow any one who dealt with the INSTITUTION in such a light hearted manner. In our considered opinion, unless very drastic and deterrent action is taken on the persons responsible for the occurrence that took place on 19.02.2009, the public faith on the institution would be totally eroded and if the institution fails to deal with such persons firmly or fails to deal with them in the appropriate manner, it would completely shake the confidence of the common man who seek reccour for all their other grievances in the normal day to day life.
The Bench, however, did not spare the lawyers who were held responsible for being the ones initiating the incident. The decision records;
Though one may feel what remains after the above order as against the police, we feel that as the highest Court of this State, some of the naked truth about the conduct of the lawyers also calls for reformation. We are fully conscious of the status of a lawyer in the society and by calling for a reformation, we do not mean any disrespect to the profession. With all the responsibilities instilled in this Court while at the same time being part of the legal fraternity, we will be failing in our duty if some of the factors which have developed in the recent past are not brought to light and the lawyer s community is directed to focus their attention more towards their greater assistance in the implementation of law and service to the society instead of providing any scope for unscrupulous elements to take advantage of enormous wealth and strength of power inbuilt in the legal profession for achieving their unlawful objectives. ...
While appreciating the fair statement made by the President of the Madras High Court Advocates Association, we are bound to point out that the abstaining of Courts by the lawyers for whatever reason it may be does not behave well. There are umpty number of various other methodologies by which without causing hurt to any one or without causing damage to any one and without disrupting the functioning of the Courts, the lawyers who belong to a noble profession can display their protest which would draw the attention of the concerned authorities with much more care and concern. It is not for this Court to suggest as to what those other peaceful methodology that can be resorted to.
At this juncture it will not be out of place to remind ourselves of the fact that the Father of our Nation the great Mahatma Gandhi, who fought for the Independence of this Country was himself a member of the legal fraternity. Every one of the other leaders namely Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr.Ambedkar, Dr.Rajaji, Dr.Jaykar, Alladi Krishnasamy Iyer and very many other great personalities who constituted the Constitution Assembly were all lawyers. In other words, the Magna Carta of this Country, namely the Constitution was framed by those great personalities who all belonged to the Lawyers community by exerting and toiling their mind, body and soul for nearly three long years i.e between 1947 and 1950 and that ultimately the Constitution was dedicated to the Nation on 26.01.1950.
It was for these reasons that the legal profession was always placed in  a high esteem by every other member of this Society and such confidence is still reposed in this profession as it has now become a settled position that it is the lawyers who can lead this Country in every other pursuit, also by virtue of the wealth of knowledge and know-how, learnt and retained by them. When that be the credibility of the profession, the time has now come for everyone who is part of this institution namely the legal fraternity to stand up and question to thyself whether we are proceeding in the right direction. ...
In fact on days of boycott, when out of necessity some of the parties appear before us, however much, the Court exhibit its anxiety to go for the rescue and render justice, it should be stated that due to inexperience and over anxiety of the parties they are either not in a position to place the facts in full before the Court and thereby disable the Court to render full justice and in many cases, the parties because of their inability to express their grievance remain as silent sufferers.
In this context, the submission of the learned Advocate General that the image of the lawyers in the opinion of the common man is highly eroded though may appear to be bit harsh is the real fact which has to be accepted with a pinch of salt. There is no gain saying that as lawyers belong to a very high clan and as such entitled for certain privileges in the Society, while at the same time when they fail to fulfill the obligations arising out of such status which the lawyers community is obliged to reciprocatively display to the Society at large, the same would certainly gain an impression adverse to their interest. In this context, the further fact remains as to, of the whole lot of the lawyers how many of them are really interested in abstaining from Courts. Therefore, it is high time that the Associations take a very pragmatic approach and take a firm decision to resort to any other passive method by which they can exhibit their protest in a subtle way instead of resorting to Boycott of Courts.
Have a look at the elaborate decision.

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