News Brief

Explained: The Lawyers-Delhi Police Clash Reveals More About Our Criminal Justice System Than Anything Else

Source: Twitter

Recently, Delhi witnessed two attacks on the Police in New Delhi, one was outside the Saket district court on Monday, and the other on Saturday in the Tis Hazari Courts Complex after a parking dispute which led to at least 20 security personnel and several advocates being injured.

Reportedly, the original parking lot dispute escalated with lawyers setting fire to a police van and other vehicles as police officers ransacked lawyers' chambers. Three lawyers were shot as police used batons on lawyers. At least 30 people were hurt.

After the incident, assistant sub-inspector Pawan Kumar, who had allegedly opened fire in the Tis Hazari incident was suspended, as the lawyers protested and called an indefinite strike till the guilty policemen were arrested.

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Several videos went viral on social media allegedly showing hooliganism of lawyers harassing the passers-by while protesting on the streets. In one such video, a cop on a motorcycle was seen being beaten by the lawyers. He was punched and slapped before he fled the scene on the motorbike.

The video prompted yesterday’s protests by the police personnel as well as their family members. "We want justice. We also have human rights, the guilty lawyers must be punished severely," one of the protesting policemen was quoted as saying by NDTV.

Thousands of Delhi police personnel laid siege to the force’s headquarters for 11 hours. They called off the stir after multiple appeals, including by their own chief.

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Meanwhile, Delhi High Court had ordered that no severe action be taken against lawyers over the Tis Hazari incident. The protesters demanded that the order be challenged in the Supreme Court.

“Our police officer was thrashed mercilessly by lawyers outside the Saket court and not even a case was registered. What are we here for? To get beaten?”, constable Ravi was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

The protesters also expressed sympathy for the constable who was suspended. “The top leadership should have stood their ground. In fact, the officer saved so many lives. If he did not open fire, nearly 50 prisoners and other officials would have been injured as the lawyers had barged inside the lock-up,” said one of the protesters.

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The protesters also demanded that a woman DCP who was manhandled and roughed up at Tiz Hazari (and was subsequently in tears) is able to register an FIR.

Subsequently, different police associations across the country, including the IPS association condemned the assault of the police personnel, expressed solidarity and demanded justice.

The police personnel called off the protest after the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal promised to file a review petition against the Delhi High Court order. He also promised all the required medical assistance as well as Rs 25,000 ex-gratia payment to the injured police personnel.

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Social media stands divided

The hooliganism of the lawyers- with harassing the common people, damaging public property, and throwing away the phones of those who were recording their behaviour-turned the opinion against them, and Twitter started trending #Goonsinblack yesterday.

The Bar Council of India also realised that the image of the community was being maligned and swiftly condemned the lawyers’ attack on the police officer. ‘Hooliganism has no place in the bar’, it stated.

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The Council recalled its resolution asking the advocates to abstain from work and asked them to resume the work from Tuesday. The Council also asked the coordination committee to identify those who beat up the policeman to take action against them.

“We are to think this important aspect from the legal point of view, so that we don't become a laughing stock in the society,” the Bar Council statement read.

On the other hand, some users pointed out that the Police who are notorious for misusing their powers and harassing people, are now demanding justice against harassment.

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Some on Twitter, while condemning the violence against the cop, reminded the police of the brutality with which Baba Ramdev and those protesting against the corruption of the then Congress-led government were Lathicharged at the midnight by the police.

Others pointed out the irony of the situation. "I thought if police unnecessarily beat up someone, lawyers are there to demand justice. Now, lawyers are doing the beating up, and police are demanding justice," tweeted a user.

In perspective

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This is not the first time that two a highly organised group- lawyers- have clashed with the Police in Delhi.

In 1988, a police-lawyer clash had occurred at Tis Hazari Courts Complex, Delhi Police arrested an advocate named Rajesh Agnihotri, after he was apprehended by the students of St Stephen's College for allegedly stealing from a ladies common room.

When the accused was produced in the court in hand-cuffs, the lawyers started protesting saying that it was illegal. The metropolitan magistrate discharged the accused on the same day and ordered the Police Commissioner that the action be taken against the guilty policemen the same day.

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Four days later, Kiran Bedi called a press conference justified the police action and criticised the the Magistrate’s order discharging the alleged "thief".

The next day, when lawyers gathered outside the office of Bedi, which is in the same Tis Hazari complex, to protest, a lathi charge was ordered on them in which several lawyers were injured.

The lawyers, in response, upped their protests and stopped courts from functioning in Delhi and neighbouring states for the next two months, demanding Bedi's resignation.

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Ultimately, a judicial committee was set up under the chairmanship of Justice D P Wadhwa to look into the matter. The committee said that the hand-cuffing of the lawyer was illegal and recommended that Bedi be transferred.

The power of Delhi lawyers also came to the fore when BJP selected Kiran Bedi as its candidate for the 2015 Delhi Assembly polls and was defeated badly. The lawyers of all the six district courts in the national capital condemned the BJP decision to nominate Kiran Bedi.

The police personnel protesting on Tuesday also hailed Kiran Bedi’s leadership in standing strong with her juniors. Several of the protesters held placards hailing Kiran Bedi.

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Expectedly, seeing the power wielded by organised groups like lawyers, the protesters yesterday also demanded that the government allow the non-gazetted police personnel to form an association.

Currently, Delhi police non-gazetted personnel from the post of constable to Inspector are not allowed to form any kind of union or association under the Police Forces (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1966.

“A union will ease the process of taking our grievances to the higher officers,” said a policeman.

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“The Saket incident was the final nail in the coffin. Whether it was Mukherjee Nagar or any other incident, we have always been humiliated for vote bank politics. We need an association like the IPS and IAS officers to address our grievances,” said a constable, Naresh Phogat.

Such demands were also made in the past, and a plea was filed in the Supreme Court against the government rules that restricted the formation of the association. However, the court ruled against them.

“Non-gazetted officers consist of men of all ranks. If all the non-gazetted officers are grouped together irrespective of rank, it is bound to affect discipline. It was perhaps, realising the need to preserve discipline that the changes in the rule were effected,” the court said.

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A crisis of discipline was also visible when the protesters outside the Police Headquarters at ITO refused to listen to the address of their superiors and the Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik was forced to go back inside.

The protests, which were dubbed as the largest demonstration by the police in recent times, are backed by genuine grievances. The protesters mainly comprised those from non-gazetted ranks who were furious at their seniors for asking them to “stay silent without any fault of theirs”.

This year, many incidents came to light when the police personnel were assaulted and humiliated, and a video of the incident went viral.

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In the Mukherjee Nagar incident, the video clearly shows a Sikh man launching an attack on a policeman with his sword but in the end, six officers were suspended and three were dismissed from service, while the accused is living happily, the protesters were quoted as saying by The Hindu.

“If we act, we get suspended. If we don’t, then also we get suspended or face a departmental inquiry,” he added.

In March this year, a DCP-rank IPS officer had slapped a traffic inspector for stopping his private car, which was being driven on the wrong side in New Delhi. Later, a picture went viral showing BJP MP Manoj Tiwari held Deputy Commissioner of Police (North East) by his collar. However, no action was taken against the two.

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Other videos showing the police being at the receiving end of stone-pelting and mob attack by the members of a particular community also went viral.

Such videos decrease the respect of the law amongst the citizen. The protesters pointed out that if public saw such videos where policemen were blatantly assaulted and the perpetrators are not brought to justice, then why would anyone want to follow the laws.

The protesters said that the incidents where any particular community or religion get consolidated against the police, the senior officers immediately take action the non-gazetted policemen without an investigation.

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Earlier this year, doctors in West Bengal also went on a strike after organised attack by members of a particular community, making the same allegation, that the political superiors appease the vote-banks.

“We are humans in uniforms. We are scared to wear a uniform while travelling back home because we never know who will attack us. We are not punching bags,” one of the protesters said.

Way forward

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The incident and subsequent protests of both lawyers and police have brought several unconnected yet important issues to the surface.

The issue is further complicated by the notoriety of both the groups- lawyers and policemen- for misusing their powers and harassing the common people.

A chain is as strong as its weakest link. The justice system in the country depends on both lawyers and policemen for efficient functioning.

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The lawyers’ frequent strikes and other tantrums are blamed for paralysis of the judiciary and high pendency of the cases, while poor quality of investigation or corruption in the police can close the door to the justice.

A lot of the issues with both lawyers and police relate to their poor capability.

The policemen are not provided sufficient funds to equip themselves. They are poorly paid and have long hours of duty as many stations are short-staffed. Many personnel are put on ‘orderly duties’, making private out of public servants.

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They don’t have sufficient numbers of vehicles, arms and other resources. The forensic capability is also underdeveloped. The training has also not kept up with the times. This means the personnel have to rely on brute force to extract confessions to solve crimes.

The protests, boosted by the social media, only point out to the larger crisis in the justice system in the country where the reforms are long due. Justice after all, is a sovereign function of the state. People can get other services from private providers, but for justice, they have to go to the state.

The current crisis might be an opportunity to push for long-standing reforms, beginning with the Prakash Singh case guidelines.

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