A couple of months ago, the Supreme Court was furious over the manner certain activist-lawyers had conducted themselves in cases.
What happens when senior lawyers in the Supreme Court of India start behaving like street activists? They expose, before the people, their lack of credibility for sure. But they also draw out the best from the judges who are hearing the case, and who then put these lawyers firmly in their place. A few days ago, the court witnessed one such incident in the hearing of a case challenging the validity of Aadhaar — the unique identification number.
Justice DY Chandrachud took exception to a senior advocate referring to him as the ‘Aadhaar judge’. The advocate was arguing against Aadhaar. The judge retorted, “Since the beginning of this matter, we are being told — you either agree with us, or you will not be liberal, you will be ideologically oriented.” The remark completely laid bare the activism mentality of the lawyer in question and his ideologically leaning. Worse, it showed how such activist-lawyers are least hesitant to grade judges, not on grounds of legal acumen but their other supposed inclinations.
‘Can you be a little more gentlemanly? Why don’t you lower your tone a little?
The case at hand saw another interesting moment when Justice Chandrachud said something which has become pejorative in the eyes of the ‘secular’ lobby across the country. Cutting the lawyer to size, he remarked, “If for asking questions, you are branding me Aadhaar judge, then I will rather be a nationalist.” In the current narrative of the secular lobby, ‘nationalism’ is a dirty word and a nationalist is one who is consumed by the desire to pit communities against one another. Besides, for the secularist, a true nationalist — unlike those who sport right-wing credentials — is one that believes in brazen appeasement of the minority community without really empowering it gainfully, and clings on to the failed communist and socialist ideals.
Activist-lawyers have been so carried away that they often disregard basic courtesies in courtrooms. In the Aadhaar case, for instance, Justice Chandrachud was constrained to demand from the lawyer, ‘Can you be a little more gentlemanly? Why don’t you lower your tone a little? Where is the pleading? You can’t argue on hyperbole.”
Hyperbole and needless aggression, emanating from deep dislike to contrary viewpoints, are the new weapon of these activist-lawyers. Justice Chandrachud has become a target for these advocates because he has been the most vocal in asking pertinent questions from the petitioners opposing Aadhaar. When the lawyer said that Aadhaar would be the envy of a totalitarian regime such as that of North Korea, the Justice quipped, “Not just the envy of North Korea but also the World Bank”. The international monetary agency has praised Aadhaar. Finally, Justice Chandrachud delivered the hammer blow: “If our commitment to conscience and the Constitution becomes the ground for criticism, we will take it.”
“Raising voices only shows their inadequacies, incompetence…” But do these activist-advocates care?
This is the not the only instance of activist-lawyers crossing the red line of propriety. A few days ago, one of the petitioners at the Supreme Court in the Judge BH Loya death case claimed that his lawyer tried to pressure him to withdraw his case because the judge scheduled to hear the case was a “henchman” of the Chief Justice of India. Rather than seeking the truth behind the death — which, incidentally from all available records was a natural one — a bunch of such lawyers was more intent to play politics, wanting to drag in the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Only recently the Supreme Court Bench hearing the case made it clear that it was concerned only with the issue of death, and would not go into other aspects, such as the clean chit given to the Bharatiya Janata Party president in an encounter case which judge Loya was hearing at the time of his death.
A couple of months ago, the Supreme Court was furious over the manner certain activist-lawyers had conducted themselves in cases relating to the Delhi Government-Lt Governor tussle and the Ayodhya temple. The Chief Justice of India had then said, “When lawyers argue in a manner, not in tune with constitutional language, we will tolerate it. But for how long? If the Bar does not regulate itself, we will be compelled to regulate.”
This bunch of lawyers had a mouthful from the Chief Justice of India: “Raising voices only shows their inadequacies, incompetence…” But do these activist-advocates care?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.