If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers. This is because good lawyers exploit legal loopholes to defend bad people in court. But when these lawyers are charged with committing crimes, can they defend themselves? The answer is they use their networks to get other lawyers to defend them when they break the law. After all, lawyers may defend criminals in court but not advise them on how to evade arrest—or murder a political opponent like journalist Gauri Lankesh. When they do so, they exchange their black coats for a prison uniform.
Topping this list is advocate Manish Sharma who shot dead his friend, advocate Darvesh Yadav, who now has the double distinction of being the first woman president of the Uttar Pradesh Bar Council and the first woman president of a bar council, to be shot dead in the lawless state of UP where it is as easy to get a gun as a law degree with 170 law colleges churning out over 26,000 LLB graduates every year, some of whom cannot write a proper sentence in English. The UP Bar Council has 288,297 lawyers out of 1.3 million lawyers in India.
Yadav was cremated on June 13 in her native Chandpur village in Etah district while her assailant is still battling for his life. She was reportedly single and used to help Manish with a car, money and jewellery to build his practice. This was not a case of rivalry over elections but perhaps pique over a friendship gone sour.
Next on the list is advocate Sanjeev Punalekar, the lawyer for the Sanathan Sanstha, a right wing organisation based at Ponda in Goa, which has some top Goan politicians such as the two Dhavlikar brothers who were both ministers, and their wives as its members. This saffron organisation has been accused of planning the murders of rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar on August 20, 2013 and journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017.
An ENT surgeon, Virendrasingh Tawde and Vikram Bhave, who was a convict in the 2008 Gadkari Rangayatan blast case, and currently on bail, were also arrested before advocate Punalekar in the murders of Dabholkar and Lankesh. What took the cake was when the CBI charged Punalekar with ordering the destruction of the pistol used to murder Dabholkar. This pistol was dismantled and thrown from a train into the Vasai creek, on the outskirts of Mumbai, making Punalekar an accomplice. He also defended Pragya Singh Thakur, the right-wing MP from Bhopal who praised Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a “patriot.” She back-pedalled, after prime minister Narendra Modi chided her in public.
From Punalekar, we move to a senior lawyer in New Delhi whose identity the Delhi police refused to divulge in July 2018 after he raped a law intern in his chamber while drunk. Strangely, this was not the first time he raped her, the young woman law intern said. She told the police her senior had asked her to work under him in 2015 while she was interning with another woman lawyer. He sexually assaulted her and later apologised. He then asked her to accompany him to meet a client at Ahmedabad where she was forced to share a room with him where he raped her at dawn.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi certainly does not fit into the “bad” person category. In May 2012, his driver Mukesh Lal allegedly recorded a video of Singhvi having sex with a woman advocate inside the lawyers’ chambers. Singhvi was forced to seek a gag order from the Delhi high court to thwart the video being circulated on YouTube and Facebook platforms. The video did not show Singhvi making any offer of judgeship to his woman friend but it certainly showed consensual sex.
Unlike Singhvi, Palaniappan Chidambaran, standing over 6 feet in height, whose stentorian voice wafted into the corridors of the Bombay high court when he argued a matter for which he charged several lakhs of rupees, was booked by the CBI for clearing investment of over Rs 305 crore in INX Media during 2007 in which Peter Mukherjea and Indrani Mukherjea were accused of murdering her own daughter were directors. Both the CBI and Enforcement Directorate wanted custodial interrogation of P Chidambaram and his son Kartik, who is now an MP. Like Pragya Singh Thakur, alleged law-breakers often become law makers to escape the law. Kartik is accused of being connected to INX Media through various bribes given for clearance of the huge investment.
Then, we have the CBI hounding the reputed NGO “Lawyers’ Collective” for allegedly violating the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act. The CBI named senior advocate Anand Grover, a founder-director and trustee of the NGO as an accused with unknown officer-bearers and functionaries of the NGO and unknown private persons and public servants as accomplices. The CBI even used sections of the Indian Penal Code such as cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy against the NGO which has been in the forefront for taking up cases against the government including the sexual harassment case against the Chief Justice of india Ranjan Gogoi. Founder trustee Indira Jaisingh has alleged it was because of these cases against the government that the NGO was being victimised.
And so we have a situation where lawyers are themselves at the receiving end like Sardar Vallabhai Patel and 18 other municipal councillors of the Ahmedabad municipality who were accused on April 28, 1922, of alleged misappropriation of Rs 1.68 lakh of civic funds. Sardar Patel won the case in the Ahmedabad district court but was dragged to the Bombay high court in 1923. Jinnah led a panel of lawyers and fought for Sardar Patel, winning the case. Making the law, breaking it and winning in court is what makes geniuses.
The writer holds a PhD in Media Law. He is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.