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The Patiala House clashes fly in the face of Bar Council of India rules which require an advocate to comport himself as befitting an officer of the court
By Justice Narendra Chapalgaonkar


What happened on two consecutive days last month in the Patiala House court complex in Delhi was an ugly outbreak of violence by some people in lawyers’ robes. It was, to say the least, disrespect to the constitution and the human rights guaranteed to every citizen, allegedly by person/s, who are duty bound to defend them. The incident in Patiala House was preceded by an equally condemnable incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

There can be no dispute about the proposition that the opinion expressed in a judgment of the court also can be criticized and a different opinion expressed. Lawyers also have a right to hold their own opinions on public issues. Presently, the matter is under investigation and it would not be proper to express an opinion about the merit of the case. One may dispute the occasion, place or manner of expression. At a place of learning where new ideas and thoughts are welcome, better modes of expression such as seminars and speeches reconsidering the evidence in the case could have been resorted to. Even the propriety of the government’s advice to the President to reject the mercy petition of the accused could be discussed. The manner in which students and others in this case have vented their opinions and feelings was more political than academic.

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Whether shouting a particular slogan is an act of sedition, is a matter to be decided by the court. Lawyers also may submit their viewpoint in a permissible and constitutional manner and not by violence. Lokmanya Tilak, one of our freedom fighters, used an editorial in his newspaper, Kesari, to express his perception of “sedetion” practicing lawyers who, he said, have many more options. Physical assault is certainly not one of them.

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COMMANDING RESPECT

Judiciary commands respect since it discharges an onerous duty imposed by the constitution. Lawyers also have a rightful share in it. Another reason for this respect is that both judges and lawyers follow certain norms of behavior. Those are essential for the performance of their duty. While considering whether lawyers have the right to go on strike, the Supreme Court accepted that they could ventilate their grievances by press statements, interviews, carrying banners and peaceful marches out of the court premises and away from it. Judges by the use of this clause emphasized the sanctity of the court premises.

The professional obligation of a lawyer is to maintain the dignity of the court and himself, since the dignity of lawyers is part of the dignity of the court. Reminding that lawyers have certain social obligations, judges of the Delhi High Court referred to Bar Council of India Rules, 1975, which say: “An advocate shall, at all times, comport himself in a manner befitting his status as an officer of the court, a privileged member of the community and a gentleman.” (BL Vadehara vs State AIR 2000 Delhi 266)

The Supreme Court, in the same case (Ex-Capt. Harish Uppal vs Union Of India (2003) 2 SCC45), made very important observations about the manner in which a lawyer should react about an unpleasant happening in society about which he may have a justifiable grievance. The judges said: “A lawyer being part and parcel of the legal system is instrumental in upholding the rule of law. A person cast with the legal or moral obligation of upholding law can hardly be heard to say that he will take law in his own hands.”

When we see lawyers unable to control their anger and resorting to physical assault or judges exhibiting their personal prejudices in the orders they pass or in their public expressions, one feels that a cool and objective outlook in our system is becoming more and more difficult.

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The source of strength to perform constitutional duty without fear is not only in the statutory provision assigning; it is acceptance by the people of that authority which gives real legitimacy. Any misdemeanor by constituents is likely to damage this legitimacy.

(The writer is a former judge of Bombay High Court)

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