Thursday, Sep 19, 2002
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By V.R. Lakshminarayanan
The recent violent events disfiguring our courts and bringing to ridicule an otherwise most patriotic and learned forensic profession, have left us all shell-shocked, shattering our faith in the legal community that has been the vanguard of our freedom movement, the spearhead of our social revolution, the architect of our Constitution and the sentinel defending national values and our people's basic rights. Put differently, ``the only road to the higher stations in this country is that of the law'' and that has been clogged.
The threat from the Bar is surfacing again another ``strike'' to repeal a law that seeks to take a heavy load off the shoulders of the common litigants and make `law' an easier relief and shelter. I am no stranger to the legal profession and I love it. I gave it up to be on the other side of the line, as an enforcer of law. Even as I was qualifying for the Bar, we knew that ``the advocate has more than a private fiduciary relationship with a client, and he has a public trust.'' He enforces the law too.
The two years in law college now three, five and ever-changing and uncertain, impressed on us not only professional ethics and social values but a certain dignity of bearing that made others envious of law students. All that lies in the limbo of the past and none so poor to shed any tears. Like any profession which considers its function to be that of serving the public, it will be measured by three standards; its independence, its availability and its learning. Aren't we faltering?
It came as a jolt 15 years ago when lawyers and policemen clashed in Madurai and other places in an unseemly spectacle of minions of law and practitioners of the art facing each other with drawn swords. The Government asked a committee to go into the causes and offer remedies. Justice N. Krishnaswamy Reddy presided and I, as the Director-General of Police, was a member. It was pure joy that when passions were white hot, the lawyers agreed to have the first sitting of the committee in my office. However, one has to admit regretfully that it was the beginning of the fall. Protests at police incivility led to boycotts, a private quarrel in which a lawyer was involved was elevated to a breach of privilege of the Bar meriting riotous show-downs and now it has reached a point where missiles are aimed at judicial officers and high court work paralysed, Judges forced to be escorted out by police and the purity of the temple of justice defiled without qualms at little or no provocation. The Bar, from the apex to the minor ones in magistrate courts, is rushing to barricade the streets seeking redressal of grievances, real and fancied, and lawyers do not argue any longer but raise slogans, shatter window panes and "take the law into their own hands".
Where does this all begin? They all say it begins at home and for the students, it begins in schools and hostels. True, the law college hostels are a disgrace. Living conditions are sub-human. I have personally seen them in Chennai and Madurai. There is squalor all around, food is not served at all in Madurai and erratically served in Chennai. Library is a myth and in Madurai, none of the boys is guilty of reading any law books. Computers, an important weapon in the armoury of a lawyer, is a figment of their imagination. No games and it is a case of a ``unsound body housing a restless mind''. Small wonder they prefer agitation to arguments.
I would hold the Bar guilty of ignoring the abominable conditions of their wards. Some small contributions can set matters right. Two or three briefs diverted to these hostels and a few computers, a few books on law and more importantly a PIL writ to compel the Government to run these institutions properly. When iniquities and social injustices abound, lawyers are blissfully unaware and insensitive to what is happening in their own backyard. Naturally, they forfeit public support. It is with an anguished heart that I am writing. What we witnessed in Tiruchi, Madurai, Chennai, Delhi and elsewhere in recent times and the Bar Council of India threatening to do it again is not only plain contempt of court but is inimical to the due process of law.
Lawyers cannot pretend to be innocent of the law of contempt. Nor ignorance of Constitutional remedies to correct any injustice. On the other hand, none in this country has a divine right to be above law. Forcing courts to close down, however outrageous a Government action or legislative measures be, is a remedy not available in our forensic pharmocopeia. Permitting extra-legal coercion will lead to a breakdown of our constitutional institutions. And lawyers should not take to barricades in the streets whatever be the cause they are fighting for. Their's is a profession with clean white collars and cannot bear a blue stain. Their fiduciary obligation to the public, they break at their peril.
Let there be constructive efforts to set our house right before other elements take over the leadership. That day is not too far.
(The writer is a former Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu.)
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