A day after the news broke of the alleged sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl in Chennai, the Madras High Court Advocates Association(MHCAA) announced that its lawyers will not represent the accused in court.
The announcement came on Tuesday, shortly after visuals emerged of a number of lawyers at the Mahila Court premises of Madras High Court physically assaulting two accused, even as they were being remanded in judicial custody.
While the Supreme Court of India has repeatedly held that the accused be provided competent government pleaders for trials, the tragic case of the 11 year old's rape has divided the legal community.
Explaining the decision to TNM, G Mohanakrishnan, the president of the Madras High Court Advocates Association, says, “It is a serious offence. When produced before the Mahila court, many lawyers and litigants had raised slogans against the accused. Hence, we have all decided not to appear for the accused.”
Pressed on the fairness of removing members from the association if they represented the accused, he says that this move is to send a message to society.
“This is a peculiar case. Hence, this is not a single person’s decision. We have requested the entire advocate community, and later, unanimously passed a resolution to not to appear for the accused.”
When asked if this was against the principles of natural justice, Mohanakrishnan said, “They (the accused) can get legal aid. But, if anyone files bail application, we will oppose the bail application.”
Now this has raised important concerns among the advocate community.
Every accused is entitled to a lawyer under law
Speaking to TNM, senior lawyer Geeta Ramaseshan points out, “I believe every person has the right to a lawyer, irrespective of the seriousness of the crime. In fact, this has been well established by the Supreme Court, even in Ajmal’s case. Everyone reacts strongly to a crime like this. If nobody represents, the court is duty bound to assign a lawyer to them through the Legal Services Authority. That’s the provision of law; more so, when a person is charged with a serious crime that involves sentences of death and life imprisonment.”
Incidentally, several lawyers and lawyers associations had refused to represent Ajmal Kasab, one of the perpetrators of the November 26 bombings in Mumbai in 2008, which killed nearly 200 people. And those who came forward were threatened by right-wing outfits.
However, the then Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan said, “I don't think he will go undefended. But even for helping the court for a proper trial, the assistance of a lawyer is required. His role will come to light if there is a fair trial. Somebody will have to defend.”
‘Not a binding decision’
While the diktat issued by the MHCAA may have been an emotional response to the assault, on the practical front, it may not be binding.
Speaking to TNM, senior lawyer Paul Kanagaraj says, “It is a decision taken by the association. It’s a general invitation to the members of the Bar. It is only an appeal to the members. The decision may not bind to every individual lawyer. It is out of emotion that the decision was taken. Though it is a gruesome act, nobody can be deprived of their rights. But there are helping hands to support the victims and accused. The judiciary will take care and provide help through legal aid.”
Note: The picture is blurred as the main accused is not in the picture. These were a bunch of men who were brought for the parade and the media has no clarity over who has been accused and who has not.