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Why Does Police Fear The Legal Fraternity In India?

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Former Judge Of The Indian Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju explains why the legal fraternity is feared in India and what tool allows them to scare people, even policemen.

Recently, some policemen were said to have been physically assaulted in Tees Hazari, Karkardooma and Saket district courts in New Delhi, which instigated them to hold a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Delhi Police Commissioner near the ITO building, demanding protection from such assaults. Several police officers were seen carrying posters reading ‘Hum police hain, ghulam nahin’ (We are policemen, not slaves). Their agitation has been supported by police organisations all over India.

It seems strange that policemen, who do not seem scared of any other section of society, except perhaps, politicians, are scared of lawyers. Lawyers don’t carry lathis and guns, as many policemen do. Then why are the police scared of lawyers? Even when there is a police lathi charge on lawyers, it is usually consequential to a prior assault by lawyers on policemen, with fists or by stone pelting. Policemen are not wearing bangles, so if they are assaulted they are likely to retaliate, but usually, they are not the ones who initiated the violence.

The reason why policemen are scared of lawyers is that lawyers have a weapon called ‘istagaasha’ or criminal complaint, of which policemen are dreadfully afraid. 

A criminal case in India can be started in one of the two ways. First, a First Information Report can be filed in a police station under section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Secondly, a criminal case can be initiated by filing an istagaasha or criminal complaint before the judicial magistrate, under section 200 of the CrPC.

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Now, policemen are not scared of an FIR because that is submitted to members of their own fraternity, which makes the matter ‘manageable’ for them.

But a criminal complaint before a judicial magistrate is an altogether different cup of tea. It is presented before a judge (a judicial magistrate), and lawyers and judges belong to the same fraternity. A magistrate’s sympathy is therefore likely to be more with the lawyers who appear daily before him in court rather than with policemen.

On receiving a complaint of police atrocity by lawyers, whether true or concocted, the magistrate will issue summons to the accused police officer under section 204 of the CrPC and begin a criminal trial.

The trial may end up with the accused policemen being sent to jail, and/or their career damaged or ruined. So, the moment a summons is issued against him by a magistrate, a policeman is like a fish out of water, flopping about hither and thither. That is the real reason why policemen are scared of lawyers.

Many lawyers have imaginative minds, which also scares government servants. Let me back that with an an example.

Around 1970, when I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court, there was a leading senior lawyer of Allahabad District Court (let us call him AB), who, though having a huge practice, never filed income tax returns and never paid any income tax.

Once a young exuberant and upright Income Tax Officer (ITO) was posted in Allahabad, who issued a notice to AB to appear before him. When AB appeared, the ITO said, “Mr AB, everyone knows you are a top lawyer in Allahabad District Court with a roaring practice. Yet you never file income tax returns and never pay any income tax.” Having said so, the ITO made a judgment assessment and levied a huge demand on AB as tax and penalty. AB, to no avail, kept pleading that he was a poor lawyer with no practice and would be ruined by this huge demand as he had no assets.

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A few days thereafter, the ITO received a letter from a lawyer. The letter, not from AB, stated that his client, a young woman, had been impregnated by the ITO under a false promise of marriage which he had not kept, and now his client had delivered his child for which he must pay a huge amount of compensation, otherwise legal proceedings for rape etc. would be commenced against him.

The ITO was bewildered and shocked, as he had never till then even had an affair with any woman, far less impregnated anyone. He went from lawyer to lawyer seeking advice, and ultimately someone told him to go to AB. He did, and fell at AB’s feet, apologising profusely. Consequently, a compromise was reached. The ITO recalled his order imposing tax and a penalty on AB, and the legal notice too was withdrawn.

No wonder government servants in India give lawyers a wide berth!

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