In the past few weeks, there have been two high-profile cases where blatant attempts to use bribes to obstruct justice have come to light. In one of them, a well-heeled and educated young man was charged with driving his BMW over six people nearly a decade ago. The police found witnesses changing their stories during the trial, and the suspicion was that they were being influenced to not tell the truth. Then, a television sting more than two years ago showed that his lawyer (a leading member of the bar who has counted a former prime minister among his clients) and, hold your breath, the public prosecutor himself were trying to bribe a key witness in such a manner as to ensure that the case collapsed. It has taken more than two years for the court to rule on the matter and when it did recently, it was scathing in its comments, and said that there was little doubt about the complicity between the defence lawyer and the chief prosecutor. The Delhi High Court then ordered that they be prevented from appearing before the court or subordinate courts for all of four months, and imposed a Rs 2,000 fine — which cannot possibly be a deterrent for a successful lawyer who must earn multiples of that sum from a single hearing. The court also recommended that the guilty two be stripped of their designation as senior advocates, but felt this was a decision better taken by the full court — whenever that may be, especially now that the Bar Council is saying only it has the right to strip any fellow lawyer. Shouldn’t the court have thought of even a token prison sentence for the serious crime of trying to obstruct justice? When the lay public sees a high-profile lawyer exposed but getting away so lightly, who can blame it for asking whether justice is different for the rich and the poor? When the public prosecutor is involved in a cash-for-acquittal scam of this magnitude, every caricature of justice shown in popular Bollywood movies seems real.
In another case, the clerk of a former additional advocate general of Haryana went and delivered Rs 15 lakh in cash to a judge. It was only when the judge filed a complaint with the police was it discovered that the money had gone to the wrong judge. The intended beneficiary has, thankfully, gone on leave till the matter is cleared up. But what is the guarantee that it will be cleared up?
There is enough grist in the gossip mills to make people wonder whether these two cases are the tip of the ice-berg. The judges have so far resisted subjecting themselves to the scrutiny that is now mandated for people in other positions of public authority. The judges have also got powers for slapping contempt charges--and these can be invoked even when the media is unearthing the truth (a defence that is valid in cases of libel). Quite a few lawyers are believed to have based their careers on managing cases rather than winning them. The judiciary and the legal profession need to take action to prevent a loss of faith in the country’s justice system. Trying to keep the judiciary out of the purview of the common system that applies to everyone else (such as disclosure of assets owned, for instance) and to say that the judiciary will clean up its own house is not good enough. And it is noteworthy that the Bar Council has done nothing in the matter of lawyers suborning a witness, other than try to protect its turf.
6 months ago