The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Monday expressed shock and deep concern on "the arbitrary, illegal and brazen exercise of brute power by the police" against lawyers, including the search conducted at the premises of an advocate representing some of the accused in the north-east Delhi riots cases.
The SCBA also condemned the assault on a lawyer in the Etah district, Uttar Pradesh, by the local police.
The SCBA expressed "serious concern on the reprehensible conduct of the police in both these cases and calls upon all concerned authorities to take serious punitive action against all concerned for their atrocious conduct which denigrates and violates the mandate of the Rule of law". Regarding search at advocate Mehmood Pracha'a office premises, the SCBA said that such actions were "intimidatory and designed to abuse the due process by coercing an advocate to succumb to police threats and methods unheard of in legal annals".
"Such a search/seizure is in the teeth of the specific provisions of law which recognise the client lawyer relationship and protects all correspondence between the advocate and his client," SCBA said in a statement.
Encroachment on the rights of an advocate by the police violates the rights of the accused to a fair trial guaranteed under Article 21, and the protection against self-incrimination guaranteed under Article 20 (3) of the Constitution of India, jeopardising the rights of the client to a free trial, it said. "The seizures of confidential information which is protected by lawyer-client privilege, in a search conducted by the very police authorities who are prosecuting the lawyer's clients, will prejudicially affect the rights and guarantees of the accused," it said.
"It is illegal and contravenes all canons of protection available to a client and his lawyers," said Rohit Pandey, acting secretary of SCBA.
The statement further said that advocates are entrusted with confidential and privileged communications by their clients and are protected and privileged.
"Such privilege is protected under law and is the sine qua non for the effective realization of the right to fair trial, the right to access of justice, right against incriminating oneself which constitute essential rights guaranteed under Article 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India. These sacrosanct protections of confidentiality guaranteed under the constitution and the laws, work as the fundamental bedrock of our justice system," it said.
It further said that the grant of a warrant by the Magistracy to search a lawyer's office in a routine mechanical manner, particularly in respect of a lawyer's communication and correspondences, was antithetical to rule of law and constitutes a disturbing violation of this privilege directly affecting the administration of justice.
"This Association strongly condemns the actions of the Delhi Police in its attempt to seize an advocate's personal computer and other personal digital devices by taking subterfuge under orders of a Court. "Such an arbitrary exercise to access an Advocate's personal digital devices is a grave and egregious violation of privacy of any citizen and that of a member of the Bar who is engaged to act for his client," it said.
The Association called upon Delhi Police to "immediately forbear, cease and desist from using the information available on the devices so seized." Regarding the "brutal assault of a member of our fraternity in Etah in his house when he was with his family" the association said it was "atrocious and unacceptable".
"It is a gross and calculated action on the part of the police in total contravention of law," it said.
Pracha had said that a search was conducted at his office from 12 noon on December 24 till about 3 AM on December 25.
Delhi police had alleged that lawyer Pracha forged documents and instigated a man to depose falsely in connection with a case related to the violence in north-east Delhi in February this year.
Advocate Pracha has been representing various accused and complainants in the violence in north-east Delhi.
Various cases were registered over the north-east Delhi violence, in which at least 53 people were killed and several others were injured.
In the second case, the video of the incident where police broke open the door of a house and dragged a man in advocate's dress assaulting him has gone viral.