Op-Ed: Lawyers Are A Law Unto Themselves

A drunken man gets into a street brawl after dashing his car against a bike and gets soundly thrashed for it. A police patrol party arrives, rescues him from the clutches of the angry mob, packs him into a van and takes him to the police station. But far from thanking the police, the inebriated man showers the worst possible invectives against his saviours instead. No wonder he gets another round of thrashing, this time by the police.

Such incidents happen on the streets of the Twin City – and indeed any other city or town – almost every day. Normally, the repercussions of the incident don’t last beyond the night. By the morning, it is back to business as usual for both the man and the police. Adhering to the time-tested dictum “Raat Gayi, Baat Gayi’ people get on with their life, putting such incidents behind them.

But if the man in question happens to be a lawyer, all hell breaks loose – as it indeed has following the alleged attack on Orissa High Court lawyer Debi Prasad Patnaik. For two months now, the lawyers have paralysed the courts and held the government and the state as a whole to ransom. This even after the state government, worried about the implications of the strike, arrested two persons and suspended four police officials in connection with the incident. Forget the High Court, they defy even the Supreme Court. That the writ of the SC does not extend to the HC Bar Association became clear when its members burnt the effigy of former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipka Misra after a bench headed by him ‘dared’ to advise them to return to courts.

Things have now come to a head with the Bar Association split down the middle and members of the BJD Legal Front breaking ranks with the Bar. The scenes seen inside the august premises of the HC on Monday proved that those supposed to uphold the law are law-breakers themselves. They would brook no opposition, not even dissent or a difference of opinion, in pursuing their one-point agenda of bringing the police and the government down to their knees. If people or the administration of justice suffers in the process, then so be it!

With lawyers on the warpath, courts are unable to hear cases. Even those arrested in minor cases are unable to get bail. Jails across the state now have two/three times the prisoners – a majority of them undertrials – they are equipped to house. As a result, living conditions in jails, horrible at the best of times, have worsened even further. Jail authorities are having a torrid time providing food, accommodation and other amenities to the inmates. Family members of those in jail are at their wit’s end wondering if the two-month long strike by lawyers would ever end.

But our lawbreakers masquerading as law-keepers couldn’t care less. In our system of criminal jurisprudence, only courts are empowered to decide whether someone is guilty or not. But the lawyers have usurped that right and have pronounced the police guilty saying it is shielding the ‘main culprit’. And they have given their verdict based on the testimony of their drunken colleague and without hearing the other side – in violation of all accepted canons of natural justice.

I cannot think of any other segment of society that is so completely outside the purview of any authority. Citizens fear the police and other law enforcing agencies. Officers have to bow to their seniors, the government and the courts. Governments, in turn, have to submit to the people and the courts. The media has to operate under the twin control of the owners and their readers/viewers. Even the all-powerful politicians have to fear both the courts and the people. Lawyers, in contrast, are a law unto themselves, not shackled by anyone or anything: not the government, not the police, not the media, not the law, not the Constitution, not even the courts.

It goes without saying that this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue till eternity. Any system that has a segment of people who are not under anyone’s control does not augur well for a democracy. Since there is no point appealing to the good sense of the lawyers given their conduct in the past, it is incumbent on the lawmakers to come up with a law that reins in the unruly lawyers and ensures that they are not allowed to hold the state – and indeed the country – to ransom for months at a stretch.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)