OPINION: Rip off the Privileges for we are not Noble
Advocacy is a noble profession. It remains noble only when you adhere to the rules of the profession. As a lawyer one needs to be morally upright as well, or else it may not entitle you to avail the benefits of its nobility. A lawyer can never be robed of his robes. If there is tendency to do that then it would result in the death of the democracy and the constitutional values of the nation. But what if the lawyers themselves by their deeds cause their robes to be maligned. It would end up in utmost chaos and no institution could be blamed for taking away the privilege that have been showered up on the lawyers as a class. Such is the latest development that has been brought to light by the re-emergence of a decade old notification again in the notice board of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Bar Association.
The notice basically says that if the mobile phone causes any interference/disturbances in the Court proceedings it would be confiscated. Hence the lawyers are warned to switch off the mobile phones. What exactly is the reason for the reemergence of the notification. Even after the circular being issued in 2007 , lawyers were permitted to bring in the mobile phones to the court if it is in silent mode and is not creating a disturbance in the court proceedings. The clients and even the clerks were not permitted to carry the instrument to the court rooms. Neither were the journalists permitted to do that.
Lawyers made it a point to switch over the mode of their instrument to silence when they were to enter in to their sound zone of coming out with arguments. This was the practice for the last so many years and was being meticulously followed by the lawyers both seniors, who were using mobile phones , as well the junior lawyers.
The phase of print journalism had already ended giving way to electronic media, which again is phasing out for the social media. The rights available to citizens and activists in the social media is tremendous and there is effectively no control at all after the Supreme Court thought it fit that the right to freedom of speech and expression of the nation’s citizens need to prevail over the whims and fancies of the instrumentality of the state , the government. Hence Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act were struck down as unconstitutional by the Apex Court.
This was also a time when the BJP government had come back to power and they being motiviated by their own agenda of their view ( debatable whether it is right or wrong) of national development were passing Acts and Notifications to ease out their method of governance. Such governance, unacceptable to a class , would necessary result in these policy as well as method being challenged in Constitutional Courts all the more when in a democracy the voice of the opposition could be seldom heard in the Parliament. Thanks to the wonderful connect of certain parties that they do not have adequate numbers in any house of the Parliament to voice the concerns of the public at large. And those who have the numbers are not much worried about the concerns since they have their personal worries, including cases involving economic crimes. Hence the Supreme Court was approached on almost all issues which even jurists claimed to be of national importance.
The media had always won their right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and since they are required as the fourth estate for the survival of the democracy in the nation, there were not much direct regulations up on them. All restrictions were either moral or indirect. Many succumbed to it and many are trying to overcome the pressure. But the internet revolution and the access to the same through the mobile phones created incredible reach for the social media. This resulted in the birth of many online magazines as well. The main catch of these media being the lack of control by any authority. The reach is huge and the transit time is also magical. Yet another attraction is the change or the amendment that could be brought after the news is published.
As the Courts were being flooded with litigations of prime importance, and many political parties themselves being party to the litigations, the news value and the attraction to these cases also started travelling north. In the garb of being a legal portal which publishes on law, these portals have started employing lawyers to report the court proceedings who could carry the mobile phones to the court and then use them through different mediums to spread the news, as they want it to be done, live from the court.
Many a times, you would find the reporting much more than any legal opinion and the Courts have had to quarrel with them for having given them a shade of being opinionated Judges. Such instances peaked to the maximum with the Aadhar case, when the Judge hearing the case opened up expressing his anguish during the course of the hearing. Judge Loya case was also reported vividly by the online portals and many a times, the proceedings in the court were recorded by the lawyer turned reporters who were regularly reporting for the portals. That too at a point of time when the question whether the Court proceedings are to be live broadcasted is being adjudicated by the Supreme Court and the social media restrictions etc are being mooted at the Delhi High Court.
It was very unfortunate that the privilege which is being given to the lawyers as a community was being misused by some who also act as reporters for these medias, which are not controlled by any regulatory body. These online magazines and reporters at times come with harsh opinionated articles against or in favour of the judges as well, in which they are politically or otherwise interested.
As a lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court, all I could say is that I have been regularly keeping the instrument in the silent mode, hoping that my arguments in the Court are sound. The instrument is also used as library by many lawyers. There are both online as well as offline libraries that are available in the mobile phones and the Notepads and tablets which requires to be used in a Court which are also travelling towards electronic records rather than the paper files.
The misuse needs to be curbed but the lawyers, who genuinely act as one, should not be restrained from the optimum use of the instrument and the technology provided by it as also an extension of Freedom of Speech and Expression. And, for the lawyers who act as reporters, there need to be the same restriction as is for other journalists and they cannot be treated as a different class for they have forgotten the nobility of the profession. For any ordinary citizen rights come with duties but as lawyers we need to remember that our duties come first, which makes us privileged to enjoy the nobility of the profession with all those noble rights.
Renjith Marar is an Advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India. Views expressed are personal.