Madhya Pradesh has emerged as the first state in India to enact a law to protect lawyers from being assaulted. If doctors can unite to protect themselves from being assaulted in hospitals when they do not attend patients on time, there is no reason why lawyers, whose profession is as hazardous as doctors, should not be protected--like journalists who also serve society. The new law provides a jail term up to seven years for anybody obstructing a lawyer from discharging his functions, pressurizing him or threatening him to do something illegal or abstain from doing something lawful. The law is a welcome addition to the Advocates Act, 1961 which could have been amended by Parliament to protect lawyers throughout India.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced in 2012 the Advocate Protection Bill would be introduced in the assembly during the monsoon session. Coming ahead of the assembly elections in 2018, Chouhan’s announcements were made to woo lawyers’ votes. Significantly, the Congress, the main opposition in MP had promised to implement the law within a month if the party was elected to power.
Chouhan also announced a hike—to Rs 5 lakh—in the maximum limit of funds for treatment of serious ailments afflicting advocates. In case of untimely death, Rs 4 lakh would be given to the kin of deceased advocates, which would include Rs 2 lakh from the state government and Rs 2 lakh from the state bar council. But like all politicians, Chouhan forgot his promises.
There are around 90,000 lawyers in MP alone. Bar councils and bar associations in several states, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, have over the years vainly sought a law to protect lawyers from assault. This is why lawyers in Bhopal launched several agitations last year to demand such a law.
In the wake of the Bulandshahr violence, where those accused of lynching police inspector Subodh Kumar were garlanded with shouts of “Jai Shri Ram!” and in UP which had the dubious distinction of having its first-ever woman president of the UP bar council shot dead on June 11, such a law would have been more fitting. Perhaps it may have saved the life of advocate Darwesh Yadav who was shot by Manish Sharma who committed suicide.
Legal practice is innately antagonistic which is why a lawyer representing a politician or a criminal may be beaten up although he is only discharging his duty. Some lawyers who practice criminal law sometimes turn into accomplices of their clients. Sanjeev Punalekar is a typical example. He advised the Sanathan Sansthan shooters to destroy the pistols used to kill rationalist Dabholkar.
This transformed Punalekar who was a prominent face on news channels from a lawyer defending these alleged killers to their accomplice. The shooters acted on his advice and dismantled the pistol which they threw into the Vasai creek. But they spilt the beans to the CBI which arrested Punalekar.
The point here is that Punalekar faced no violence or threat to his life. He crossed over from being a lawyer to taking part in the alleged crimes of the Sanathan Sanstha. So, if he comes out of jail, he may face a threat to his life. When your accomplices squeal on you, there is no doubt that your life is in danger.
The CBI’s most famous guest is senior advocate P Chidambaram who, like Punalekar, allegedly misused his position to direct Indrayani Mukerjea, accused of murdering her daughter, to pay a kickback of Rs 3.5 crore to his son, Karti Chidambaram’s firm.
Again, there is no hint of violence but the fact that a senior advocate allegedly misused his position is enough to surmise there are powerful lobbies pressurizing Chidambaram not to divulge their identities. This is why he will not spill the beans.
Government pleaders and prosecutors are sometimes bribed to weaken a case before a court. Despite a complaint to the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa (BCMG), a single-member special committee dismissed a complaint against an assistant public prosecutor from Goa who is very much on the rolls of the bar council which he denied.
The complaint against the APP alleged he destroyed the prosecution case by helping the accused get discharged in a case of cheating. The lawyer who formed the special committee of the BCMG was blissfully ignorant that APPs never file vakalatnamas because the court assigns them cases. The reasoning of this so-called single-member special committee of the BCMG was absurd. It was shocking he was appointed as a one-man special committee when he was allegedly unaware of basic procedure in criminal trials.
The ineptitude of the state bar councils to protect their members from attack emerges when an advocate from Nagpur, Satish Uke, claimed he feared being attacked for his role in filing PILs alleging Judge Loya was murdered. The BCMG has allegedly not come to his rescue as well.The Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court Bar Association too was plunged into a controversy when the managing committee allegedly signed consent terms in a suit filed to strike down a 2017 resolution which declared those who were elected twice to the panel would not contest again.
The committee allegedly did not inform the general body of its signing the consent terms although the general body is the supreme authority. When a member complained about being assaulted in Goa, the secretary allegedly did not promptly pass a resolution condemning the assault. With Madhya Pradesh taking the lead, some other states too may enact a law to protect lawyers from being brutally attacked or murdered while discharging their duties. The state bar councils and bar associations will then not have any role to play.
The writer holds a PhD in Media Law. He is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.