They have understood that the war is with CJ Kaul and his supporters, no one else

Warzone Madras HC Why Tamil Nadus lawyers are angry and yet arent being too violent
news Judiciary Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 13:35

It was a sea of black and white. Shops were shuttered and the roads closed, stalling vehicular traffic in key areas of North Chennai. A stage was erected at the centre of Muthuswamy Road, barely a kilometer away from the heavily fortified Madras High Court.

More than 2000 lawyers from across the state had arrived in Chennai overnight for a protest on July 25. This was a showdown of unprecedented proportions, and the main target was the one man who has been trying to reign the lawyers in – Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Sanjay Kishan Kaul.

The history

On May 25, the Madras HC administration notified stricter rules to discipline lawyers. The rules were tough, and, amongst other things, stated that lawyers could be debarred under Advocates Act even if they ‘browbeat’ a judge – which could simply mean raising their voice against the lordships. This did not sit well with the lawyers, and they have been protesting and striking work ever since.

To end the logjam, the Registrar General issued a statement on July 22, clarifying that 'no action will be initiated under the Rules, till the deliberations are concluded by the committee’.

Lawyers maintained that a statement was not enough, and that the rules had to be denotified.

On July 23, lawyers’ groups announced a siege of the Madras High Court on July 25 – calling for lawyers from all over the state to come to Chennai.

On July 24, in what was described by A Subramani of Times of India as a ‘surgical strike’, the Bar Council of India suspended 126 lawyers from bar associations in TN. Influential lawyers in every district and town were suspended, and told by BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra to come to Delhi for an enquiry. It was lost on nobody that Justice Kaul had had enough, and was ready to trade blows with the agitated lawyers.

Laying siege, but not quite

Lawyers reacted expectedly, and landed up for the ‘siege’ anyway. They were not able to breach the security cordon at the Madras HC, and only those with cases listed that day were allowed in. The TN police had brought in heavy reinforcements and even the Quick Response Team to control any violence.

So, lawyers laid siege to Muthuswamy Salai.

They attacked the Chief Justice head on, villifying him personally.

“This is war,” a suspended lawyer from Kumbakonam proclaimed. They painted themselves as Tamil heroes fighting for freedom from the Kashmiri Pandit who was oppressing them. An association leader, Arivazhagan, even mouthed a Rajini dialogue from “Basha”.

The women lawyers’ association President Nalini was hailed as Rani Lakshmi Bai and the iron lady of India’s law fraternity.

But it wasn’t just the CJ who was being badmouthed. The choicest of unprintable expletives were reserved for office bearers of the Bar Council of India from Tamil Nadu – S Prabhakaran, PS Amalraj and D Selvam were called traitors for not supporting the protesting lawyers. The Chairman, Manan Kumar Mishra, was not spared either.

What is the real reason for protests?

But why are the lawyers protesting in spite of a written assurance from the HC administration that no action will be taken against them under the new rules?

Senior counsel NGR Prasad says that a clarification is not enough, “They are draconian rules, and if the CJ agrees that they are, then they must be withdrawn immediately.”

But why hold the entire system to ransom when there is an in-principle agreement? Is it because the CJ has been cracking down on the lawyers?

For instance, in March this year, the HC ordered that all the cheques from insurance companies be given directly to claimants, and not routed through lawyers. The previous arrangement was convenient for the lawyers since they could take a large cut from the claims. This order was a direct hit at their bottom-line. Lawyers wanted CJ Kaul to reconsider the order, but he refused. The insurance-claims-lawyers lobby, a very powerful one, was evidently angered by this.

And there remains the issue of the 44 lawyers who were earlier suspended by the BCI for protesting. You can read our series on last year’s protests here.

Is it that the CJ’s strict disciplining of the lawyers has irked them to protest using the rules as a smokescreen?

“I agree that the standard of lawyering has fallen, but so have the standards of judges. Why are they targeting the lawyers alone? There is judicial corruption too. This is just to silence the lawyer. It is the poor lawyers who are fighting on the streets, not the rich ones. The CJ should negotiate and mediate, non-democratic actions won’t work,” says Prasad.

The CJ, however, is in no mood to listen. As the protests were ongoing outside the court campus, a senior lawyer raised the issue in front of the CJ’s bench. He simply asked them to return to work and refused to interfere.

Why the lawyers don’t want to be violent

The lawyers in the Madras HC have a reputation for being unruly, perhaps even violent. But this time, they have taken the strategic call to stay non-violent, especially with the police.

Having learned the lessons from the 2009 HC violence saga, lawyers have now realized that there is no point in fighting the police department in the state.

“The police are not our enemies, our fight is not with them. If we create law and order problems, it is an embarrassment for them, so they will have to take action. We have a problem with the CJ, we will fight him tooth and nail, but don’t fight the police,” announced Thirumalairajan, State Coordinator of the Puducherry and TN Advocates Association, right at the beginning of the protest.

“But it is wrong to say all lawyers are unruly,” says Prasad, mounting a defense, “The media keeps saying that. Most of us are not like that, (but) there will always be some people like that.” 


Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.