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What action taken against advocates who misbehave? Madras High Court to Bar Council after lawyer’s tussle with police over lockdown violation [READ ORDER]

In video clips that went viral, the lawyer was seen without a face-mask, identifying herself as an advocate, asking the police personnel to behave and threatening to strip the officials off their uniforms

By: Nidhi N. Anand, Ramaiah College of Law

An anticipatory bail plea by an advocate and her daughter in a case involving a verbal altercation with the police over an alleged COVID-19 lockdown violation has led the Madras High Court to call for a report from the State Bar Council on the measures in place to act against lawyers who misbehave with officials on duty.

Justice M Dhandapani registered concerns that there were many instances of lawyers indulging in a war of words with police personnel, even if this is not the case most of the time. “Instances have come to the notice of this Court where the legal fraternity has also indulged in some high-handed activity against the law enforcing agency. It is a harsh reality that instances of such nature by the members of the legal fraternity are on the increase,” the Court said.

Noting that the mechanism in place to take action against such lawyers for indiscipline or for misbehaving with officials has not been clearly spelt out, the Court asked the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu for a status report.

“The authorised officer of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu is directed to file appropriate Status Report before this Court before the next date of hearing as to the mechanism that is in place for taking action against the members of the legal fraternity as also the action that have been taken against such of those advocates, who have misbehaved in the public place with the officials on duty,” the Court ordered.

The matter concerned cases filed against Tanuja Kanthula and her daughter Preeti Rajan after they allegedly hurled verbal abuse at traffic police officials in Chetpet upon the police personnel stopping Rajan’s car for an alleged violation of the State’s COVID-19 lockdown earlier this month.

As per the police version, after Rajan’s car was stopped at Chetpet, she initially said that she was going to buy fish.

The police stated that she did not have the requisite pass and since the purchase of fish was not an “essential” activity exempted from the lockdown, she was issued a challan for Rs. 500 for the lockdown violation.

This reportedly prompted Rajan to make a phone call, which led to her mother arriving at the scene. A verbal altercation is stated to have followed thereafter between Kanthula and the police as well.

In video clips that went viral, Kanthula is seen without a face-mask, identifying herself as an advocate, asking the police personnel to behave and threatening to strip the officials off their uniforms.

The case filed against the duo cited offences under Sections 269, 270, 290, 294(b), 353 and 506(i) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) read with Section 51(b) of Disaster Management Act.

On June 10, a Chennai Sessions court rejected the anticipatory bail plea filed by them.

Violation of law, that too, by a legal professional and taking the law on their own hand and abusing the police officials in the vicinity of general public are all sending message for forming wrong opinion about the legal professionals … granting anticipatory bail in a case which was widely published and supported with overwhelming evidence may invite adverse comments on the judiciary too,” it had observed.

In doing so, the lower court also declined to accept the claim that Rajan had stepped out to buy ecospirin tablets (and not fish, as claimed by the police) as well as allegations that the video footage of the altercation was tampered with.

For purchasing ecosprin, necessarily, there is no need to go to Chetpet, where there is lesser medical shops than Kilpauk area. Ecosprin is not an emergency drug. No document is filed to show the urgency for purchase medicine, that too, at 7.15 a.m … On perusal of the video footage produced by the prosecution, this court is unable to find any tampering of video footage. Further, the CCTV footage produced by the prosecution from the nearby cameras also does not disclose any unruly activities by the police,” the sessions court had observed.

The dismissal of the anticipatory bail plea by the sessions court prompted the petitioners to move the High Court for relief. The High Court will hear the matter next on June 17.

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