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Lawyers can’t dump terror suspects

New Delhi, Nov. 26: The Bar Council of India has urged bar associations to desist from passing resolutions refusing to defend alleged terrorists in court — one of the purported triggers behind the serial blasts in Uttar Pradesh last week.

Council chairman Gopakumaran Nair said he had sent letters to all state bar councils requesting them to ask the associations not to deny legal assistance to suspected militants. A bar council is a regulatory body while a bar association is a forum of lawyers.

“I have circulated a letter to all state councils drawing their attention to the fact that refusal by an association to accept an engagement or a vakalatnama on the ground that a person was a terrorist was absolutely unethical and amounted to professional misconduct,” Nair said from Kochi in Kerala.

He said the council would launch an awareness programme to enlighten lawyers about professional ethics.

“Lawyers cannot resort to mobocracy,” he said. “Not in a system of criminal jurisprudence like ours in which a person is presumed to be innocent till he is proved guilty. That is why we have a system of trial, cross-examination, etc.”

The Uttar Pradesh Bar Association had earlier this year decided not to represent terror suspects. The three blasts that killed at least 15 people on Friday had fuelled speculation that the decision could be among the reasons why courts were picked out for the explosions.

A person is presumed innocent till the end of the trial when the court decides whether he is innocent or guilty, Nair said. “What is the guarantee that all the people that police were arresting were the actual culprits' Some or all of them may be innocent,” he said.

Right to be defended by a lawyer of his choice is a fundamental right of every accused.

“Sometimes, police level totally false allegations that a person is a terrorist or is involved in terrorist activities”, and refusing a client merely because of that is “wrong”, former law minister Shanti Bhushan said. “It is the duty of a lawyer to assist every person within the limits of the law.”

“An individual lawyer for an individual reason may refuse to defend an accused, but a bar as a whole cannot do so,” Nairsaid.

If denied legal assistance, an accused can approach the state bar council and file a complaint.

Valid reasons for turning a client down include a failure to pay the lawyer’s fees – or conflict of interest on the counsel’s part.

The Advocates Act, 1961, and the Bar Council Rules say that any lawyer guilty of such professional misconduct can be barred from practice. But with the state bar councils failing to act on such complaints in recent years, the number of such refusals seems to be increasing.

Protest

Nair said lawyers cannot protest by boycotting or abstaining from work. “Their protest is after all not against the judiciary,” he said. They should instead settle for wearing black badges as a form of protest, he said.

The statement coincided with protest by lawyers across Uttar Pradesh that crippled courts. State bar council president Amrendra Nath Singh said the lawyers observed Monday as “anti-terrorism day”.

Singh said lawyers in Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka observed the day as “shok diwas”.

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