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The Foul Breath Of The Law

Allegations of a casteist insult are at the centre of an ugly row between the bar and the bench

The Foul Breath Of The Law
Jitender Gupta
The Foul Breath Of The Law
This summer the bylanes around the Faridabad district court are unusually abuzz. Despite the courts being in recess, the simmering differences between the bench and the bar have been virtually on everyone's lips in this Haryana town. About 600 practising lawyers of the district bar association are on the boil, accusing the judges of despotism and vindictiveness.

The tension, which had been brewing for the past few months, reached a flashpoint in January when seven lawyers were arrested for allegedly misbehaving with a judicial magistrate. The case against the lawyers is that they, led by bar association president O.P. Sharma, barged into the courtroom of judicial magistrate Chander Hass, hurled expletives at him and shouted "Chandu Chamar murdabad".

The Faridabad case is yet another instance of sharp differences cropping up between lawyers and the judiciary. In his fir, lodged three days after the incident, the judge accused eight lawyers of insulting him and heaping casteist invectives on him. The accused, however, deny this.

The lawyers are incensed. Says P.N. Bulchandani, a senior member of the bar: "The judge vindictively exaggerated the incident and framed the lawyers under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. He named bar association general secretary Surendra Sharma in the incident, who was at the cremation of a relative on that day. The judge realised this goof-up and subsequently sought the deletion of Sharma's name from the fir."

While three of the lawyers named in the fir were released on bail within 10 days, four of them, including the bar association president, had to spend 70 days under detention before being granted bail by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Strangely enough, it all began with a freak incident at the courtroom of judicial magistrate (junior division) Chander Hass on January 9. Lawyer L.N. Parashar had to file the amended title (revised complaint with corrections and changes) in a civil case he was appearing for. The judge dismissed the case, claiming that the lawyer had failed to file an amended plaint despite several adjournments.

The bar's version is different. Notes general secretary Sharma: "Parashar reached the court late, only to discover that the judge had abruptly dismissed the case. According to the civil procedure code, the judge can't dismiss the case on this pretext and could have proceeded with the existing complaint. The judge behaved in an autocratic fashion."

The dismissal of the case evoked immediate protest from the lawyers who, represented by their president O.P. Sharma, apprised additional district judge (I) S.S. Lamba of the situation. Chander Hass, meanwhile, was presiding over another case when the agitated lawyers allegedly barged into his courtroom and misbehaved with him. Police had to be called to restore peace in the court premises. The accused lawyers were arrested on January 15 after Chander Hass lodged an fir with the police.

Agitated over the plight of their colleagues, the Faridabad bar association is now mobilising support from bar associations in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Pointing out several discrepancies in the case, the bar alleges that it has been cooked up to get even with the lawyers. They have also levelled allegations against Chander Hass. Says a bar member: "The bar association had formally lodged a complaint with the district and sessions judge as early as October last year against Chander Hass for breeding favouritism and fixing cases in the court. "

Out on bail, the accused lawyers have now prayed before the Supreme Court that their case, pending before the lower court in Faridabad, be moved to any other state for a free and fair trial. The apex court has stayed the proceedings in the lower court and will hear the case in July. The lawyers are also demanding a cbi inquiry into the affair.

But the entire incident and its fallout is unhealthy. Says C.S. Rathour, president of All India Lawyers Joint Action Committee, supporting the Faridabad bar: "This is a very unfortunate incident. Even in cases of murders, the accused usually get bail within a month's time. But these lawyers were in detention for two-and-a-half months."

There is a more serious dimension to this. If the lawyers did actually use the language quoted in the complaint, then it merits vehement condemnation. Many lawyers are of the view that the incident needs to be fully probed for a fair trial. But it's not merely an uproar in law's backyard, the issue of primordial prejudices worming their way into such rows also needs to be tackled.

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