#PatialaHouseViolence: SC demands answers from lawyers, cops, Centre
As lawyers went on the rampage at the Patiala House Court on 15 and 17 February, assaulting students and journalists, the Delhi police shamelessly stood by watching. Now, both the lawyers and the police may finally be called to account.
Acting on a petition filed by Senior Advocate Kamini Jaiswal, the Supreme Court, on 26 February, asked the police why it should not be held liable for its inaction.
It also asked the central government to answer why a Special Investigation Team and not the Delhi police should investigate the incidents at the Patiala House Court.
The apex court issued a contempt of court notice to the three lawyers who have been caught on camera boasting about beating up JNU students union leader Kanhaiya Kumar at the Patiala House Court. They are Vikram Singh Chauhan, Om Sharma and Yashpal Singh.
The three of them led the mob that attacked students and teachers who had gathered at the Patiala House Court to show solidarity with Kanhaiya, who was there to face sedition charges. The goons also attacked the journalists covering the case.
Two days later on 17 February, the three lawyers led an attack on Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan as he entered the court to argue Kanhaiya's bail plea. He was greeted with a barrage of profanities and slurs - "bh*nc**d", "Pakistan ke dalal" - and pushed around.
The legal profession has become the last refuge of a good number of scoundrels: Pinaki Mishra
That wasn't all. When the Supreme Court sent its commissioners - five senior advocates and the Delhi High Court's Registrar General - to "assess and report back" on the situation at the Patiala House Court, they too were heckled and abused by a mob led by the same trio.
All the respondents - the Centre, Delhi police and lawyers - have been asked to submit their responses by 4 March, the next date of the hearing.
In her plea, Jaiswal contended that the police's inaction against the lawyers appeared "deliberate and mala fide", and urged the court to set up an SIT to ensure a a fair and impartial probe into the violence.
Citing the National Human Rights Commission's report on the incidents, Jasiwal accused the police of being "complicit" in the attack. Indeed, she pointed out, the three lawyers have boasted on camera that they enjoy the "tacit support" of the police. Not only that, they have threatened to beat up any lawyer who dares represent "anti-national elements" such as Kanhaiya.
The NHRC report has pulled up the Delhi police for subjecting Kanhaiya to "intense psychological pressure", and compelling him to make "inculpatory statements" to the media. It has also hauled up DCP Jatin Narwal for letting the hooligans escape.
Kanhaiya has alleged as much, that the policemen on duty let go of the goons who had attacked him - and nearly stripped him naked - even though he had identified them.
This inaction by the police has gravely endangered the people's fundamental right to access to justice "by creating a climate of fear and intimidation in and around the court", Jaiswal's counsel Prashant Bhushan told the bench of Justices Jasti Chelameswar and AM Sapre.
Meanwhile, their fellow lawyers' shameful conduct at the Patiala House Court has left several eminent members of the Bar, besides Jaiswal and Bhushan, bristling with indignation.
They have demanded that criminal contempt charges be slapped against Vikram Chauhan and his fellow hooligans.
Here's what else some of them had to say:
The respected Senior Advocate directed Catch to his article titled 'Defending Kasab was easier than facing my brethren', published in The Times of India on 21 February.
Ramachandran writes, "It hadn't taken me more than a day or two to respond to the court's request to defend Ajmal Kasab. It hadn't taken me more than a couple of hours to agree to appear for Yakub Memon. And on both occasions, I needed that little time only to take my family into confidence. Fear of personal safety was never my concern."
"But here I was on Wednesday, declining the call of duty," he says, recalling his reluctance to be part of the team of commissoners the Supreme Court was sending to the Patiala House Court.
Ramachandran says what happened at the court complex "makes one fear for the future of the rule of law".
It's the duty of the court to ensure no one comes to harm while seeking justice: @IJaising
The advocate who also serves as Rajya Sabha MP calls the violence at the Patiala House Court "reprehensible". He continues, "Two sad truisms have coalesced here - that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and that the legal profession has become the last refuge of a good number of scoundrels."
The former Additional Solicitor General has moved the Supreme Court on behalf of ND Jayprakash, a social worker "appalled" by the attacks at the Patiala House Court.
"Access to justice includes witness protection, freedom from violence, free access to court premises and free access to lawyers," she says, emphasising that it's the duty of the court to ensure that no one comes to any harm while going to seek justice.
If this duty is not fulfilled or it is abdicated, Jaising asserts, then the right to seek justice and even the more sacrosanct right to life is gravely endangered.