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Courting trouble: Madras judges need commando protection from lawyers

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 9:48 IST

The threat

  • Lumpenism by lawyers has reached epidemic proportions in Tamil Nadu
  • Fearing violence, Madras High Court is now guarded by CISF personnel

The protests

  • The protests began in February because of a routine court order
  • The lawyers took the streets against the judiciary

More in the story

  • How have lawyers been creating a nuisance?
  • Should courts get intimidated in this manner?

Rowdyism and lawlessness appear to be increasing sharply in our society. And many say there is no section of society more lawless than lawyers.

The cancer of lawless behaviour by the men in black robes has been reported from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Chandigarh, Bengaluru and many other smaller towns as well, but it has reached epidemic proportions in Tamil Nadu.

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The relentless threats and abusive behaviour from agitating lawyers has led to a "fear psychosis" among judges, in the words of the Chief Justice of India, H L Dattu. Now the Madras High Court has done the unthinkable: it has erected a fortress of security to protect the judges.

Court becomes a fortress

Beginning 16 November, a phalanx of 450 gun-toting commandos from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has taken over the entire security of the court campus. It has been done on the orders of the chief justice of Madras High Court, Justice S K Kaul.

The security personnel man the 'core areas' of high court buildings, advocates' entry, car park, entry into court halls, administration office, offices of the registrar general and the public prosecutors.

The remaining areas like Mahila court and other courts classified as non-core areas are being guarded by about 200 men and officers from the state and city police.

Metal detectors and baggage scanners have been installed at all entry points. All visitors, including advocates, have to undergo frisking and only those with valid ID cards are allowed inside the demarcated areas.

The Tamil Nadu government appealed to the Supreme Court against Justice Kaul's order, pointing out that such elaborate security arrangements would involve huge expenditure and inconvenience to the public. But it was rejected by the apex court.

Bowing to the court's diktat, the Tamil Nadu government has made an initial payment of Rs 18 crore to the CISF for security, but the operational expenditure could run into several times that amount.

The sequence of events

It all started in February this year with a routine order of the Madurai bench of the Madras high court making the wearing of helmets compulsory for 2-wheeler riders across the state. The lawyers, instead of seeking a review of the order, took to the streets denouncing the judiciary.

Taking serious note of the inflammatory speeches, the high court initiated contempt proceedings against the Madurai District Bar Association office-bearers, president AK Ramaswamy and general secretary A Dharmaraj.

Incensed by the order, the lawyers began to openly taunt and abuse the judges. In Madurai and Coimbatore, the lawyers started disrupting court proceedings and also resorted to frequent boycotts.

450 gun-toting CISF commandos have taken over the entire security of the court campus

Protests moved to Chennai, when the high court took up the contempt hearing against Ramaswamy and Dharmaraj on 14 September. Over 100 lawyers accompanied by their wives and children, entered the chief justice's court hall, holding placards denouncing the judiciary.

The protestors frequently raised slogans in support of their 'leaders' and against the judges, even as the court tried to carry on its normal proceedings. They even opened their lunch boxes, consumed snacks and beverages causing a nuisance. But the court staff and the police remained helpless. At the end of the day, when the court rose, the protestors were symbolically arrested and released.

On 16 September, when the next hearing was held, some 150 lawyers surrounded Court No 4. They had come prepared to humiliate the judges who heard the case of their 'leaders' and disrupt the proceedings.

Sensing trouble, though the court had asked the police to place barricades and install CCTV cameras, the police had failed to do so, fearing the wrath of the lawyers. The judges had no option but to adjourn the hearing.

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But when the next hearing was held on 2 October, the court had made unprecedented arrangements. A huge posse of police personnel was posted, barricades were put up to regulate entry, and even video and a 55 cm TV installed inside the court hall and live coverage provided within the court campus.

The bench comprising justices S Tamilvanan and CY Selvam, who heard the case, disagreed on passing an order and the matter was referred to the chief justice.

As the issue of agitating lawyers became a national scandal, the Bar Council of India finally acted against the rough elements and suspended 15 of them. Their licences were suspended pending the outcome of an inquiry.

Bar Council condemns

In a statement, the Bar Council president, Mannan Kumar Mishra said, he "regretted the entry of people with muscle power, bad antecedents and criminal history" into the legal fraternity and called upon bar councils across the country to take stern action against those indulging in professional misconduct.

Mishra made the surprising admission that "over 30% of India's lawyers are fake or non-practising persons who misuse their certificates." He also said that many law colleges issue "fake degrees and bogus certificates."

Relentless threats and abuse from agitating lawyers has created a "fear psychosis" among judges

If the situation is as alarming as the Bar Council chairman himself admits, the immediate question is: Why have the authorities not acted so far to weed out the criminals who have infested the profession and threatening to bring down the whole judicial edifice?

Should the judges who are vested with enormous powers to protect the Constitution and the country's democracy, feel intimidated by a handful of hooligan advocates and live in perpetual fear?

If the other courts in the country are to follow the Madras high court's example, won't it be seen as a cowardly act? Besides the unfeasible costs and manpower involved, is it at all possible to protect every court and every judge?

One only hopes that the "caged judges" of Madras high court is a temporary measure. It's up to the judiciary to find a quick remedy to the deep malaise afflicting the system, and restore its dignity and honour.

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First published: 21 November 2015, 6:44 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramkrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.