By Aditi Datta*
Students, teachers, the press, opposition party workers, eminent lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court to report on the situation in the Patiala House Court complex and the accused himself were assaulted. Judges were heckled and intimidated into being forced to lock themselves in their courtrooms to conduct their proceedings peacefully.
The due process of law guarantees every person the right to be produced physically and safely before the court. To thwart this is an unacceptable defiance of the Constitution.
Despite their presence in large numbers the police chose to be inactive and unable to prevent the violence. Not a single perpetrator was arrested on the spot. Specific orders had to be passed to the police before they committed to protect the court premises. This speaks volumes about the extent to which citizen safety from street violence has broken down.
This is more than a routine breakdown of law and order. It is nothing less than a barefaced assault on all the principles and values that our country is built upon. It amounts to an obstruction of justice and contempt for the Supreme Court’s pronouncements and the guilty must be brought to book.
The brazen resort to violence by the mob which had active participation from lawyers and a politician is worthy of stringent penal action and must, as well attract strong condemnation and prompt disciplinary measures. CHRI urges the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the Central Government to take immediate and resolute action against the Delhi police from the highest level for their failure to uphold their obligation to ensure safety for all. All steps must now be taken to ensure that the accused is safe during judicial remand at Tihar prison and he and his legal team are assured access to justice and protected from any further attacks.
Maja Daruwala, Director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) says, “Every citizen of this country must be able to rely on the police to protect them, on the legal community to faithfully defend their rights enshrined in the law, and the court of law to ensure fair trial without fear or favour. But these sacred protections that every Indian relied upon seems not to be available any more. Such a deliberate obstruction of justice amounts to constitutional contempt and cannot go unpunished. The road to justice must be without fear.”
He adds, “The citizen cannot be left at the mercy of the mob. The fact that the strongest judicial oversight is now necessary is an indictment of the police and clear demonstration of its failure to protect and the selectivity of its approach. It is an indictment of the Bar Council which has failed to restrain its members from violating the basic tenets of their profession”.
Justice Ajit Shah, former Chairman of the Law Commission of India and member of CHRI’s Executive Committee (India), says, “Recent events in the Patiala House courts are extremely distressing. The brazen actions of a sitting MLA and a group of lawyers, and the impunity with which they have been allowed to continue with these acts are shocking. That the young student leader was not only not allowed to be properly represented or properly heard in the court, but was also manhandled is all very unsettling.This incident has raised many apprehensions about the respect for the rule. The role of the police in this incident is also questionable. The judicial machinery must step up and not allow such vigilante actions, especially in its courtrooms.”
Prof B K Chandrashekar, former Chairman, Legislative Council of Karnataka and member, Executive Committee, CHRI (India), says “A very specific direction of the Supreme Court of India to safeguard the law in the Patiala Court complex was ignored. All facts indicate that the Police Commissioner has acted in contravention of these directions and the rule of law guaranteed under the Constitution of India. This is an insult to the highest court of the land.”
Wajahat Habibullah, former Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities and former Information Commissioner, Chairperson, Executive Committee, CHRI (India) and member, CHRI’s International Advisory Commission, says, “ What transpired at Patiala House is reprehensible and, because it was a frontal assault on the rule of law and mainstay of our democratic structure, can be described as truly antinational. The Delhi police having failed to uphold that rule in the court premises now owes it to India’s citizens that those who were responsible are brought to account.”
*Senior Programme Officer, Police Reforms Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi