By Mudliyar

Conspiracy against the legal profession?
We have been sitting pretty talking of our personal honour and integrity as if the profession is devoid of such people, when many agencies are carrying out an open campaign against the very principles that the profession strives to protect. Last year and the year before we found people picketing and protesting against the lawyers who appeared and defended persons accused of murder. The media, the talk shows clearly exhibited the anger being directed at the legal profession. How can any human being defend a person who had committed such a heinous crime. 'Kill the lawyers' was the veritable adage that seem to guide the spirits of the leaders who lead the herd. We have not said a thing, we have not strived to educate these morons of the shallow arguments they concoct to become heroes of the ill educated herd. These are the same arguments that led to the ethnic riots in Sri Lanka. Kill, burn and loot seem to be the guiding factor that his fed into the hollow craniums of these bigots. This column has repeatedly taken these issues. When even some lawyers driven by the myopic jingoism demonstrated against a brother lawyer who appeared on behalf of the suspects in the Rita John case, this column without any reservation condemned such cheap pyrotechnics.

Today we are facing difficulties and challenges hitherto unknown in the past few years. There is a concentrated attack on the profession by various agencies trying to besmirch the image of the profession.

Only a few weeks ago I reiterated the fact the if the present Bill to amend the Bail act became law, the first casualties would be lawyers. One may ponder whether the rationale behind this statement is pecuniary. As the Magistrates Court would not have much work, as it would act as post box in remanding people for the most trivial offences, and that lawyers would be no use, no it is much more serious than that. When the proposed amendments to the Bail act are effected it would make casualties of those lawyers who have continuously upheld the rights of the people and had appeared almost voluntarily in cell death cases and continue to appear against the police in Fundamental Rights cases and Habeas Corpus cases. They would be framed. Any agency would require only two false statements to remand a lawyer, as the magistrate will not have any mechanism to probe into such a complaint.

I never thought before the ink dried on the paper on which I wrote those warnings it would happen. Only the Kegalle Bar Association saw the warnings and passed a resolution objecting to the draconian provisions. Others remained silent. The Ratnapura Bar would never have thought that this would happen at their door steps.

A man named 'Kapila alias Kondaya' was involved in a gem robbery. After the robbery the value of the gems rose from two million to about 60 million rupees. Kapila surreptitiously went to the office of a leading lady lawyer from the Ratnapura Bar. His intention was to surrender to court. He knew that if he was taken to custody by the police, they would make mince meat of him. Powerful gem merchants were behind the police. He could not find the fee demanded by the police. He went away in search of money. Few days later his mother met the lady lawyer and paid the balance fee. The accused did not accompany the mother as he was being followed by the police. In fact a few gem merchants had their many new vehicles at the disposal of the police to track the offender. The lady lawyer's husband was a popular politician in the area and had been the opposition leader of the provincial council. Many other politicians who opposed from the same party to unseat him and obtain various positions from the party hierarchy started a campaign of deadly vilification. The media was quick to publish stories on the information received by the police. The story was planted that the lady lawyer and the politician were harbouring the accused. The web of deceit spread like a gaping hole in the stratosphere. What was the fate of the lawyer who had been in practice for the last two decades. The whole world seemed to crumble before her. Such was the publicity blitz that portrayed her as a woman who would go to the extent of harbouring dangerous criminals for a fee. Few friends at the Bar comforted her.

Later the accused, known as 'Kondaya' who found it impossible to contact his lawyer as the police surveillance was too hot to beat went in search of another lawyer from another bar close to Ratnapura. The lawyer from the Avissawella Bar was careful to take a statement from the accused in the form of an Affidavit. There he disclosed that there was a threat to his life and his wife had been arrested and the police have threatened the workers of his restaurant.

The police knew that he had a mistress who was making a living by selling drugs. The police followed her and arrested her. From the mistress the police recovered the gems. There are conflicting reports about the recovery. It was heard that the entire parcel of gems was recovered from her. She has pointed out the place where they had buried the gems.

The lawyer from Avissawella accompanied the accused and drove his vehicle to Ratnapura Magistrate Court. As the watcher opened the gate and the vehicle entered the court premises three or four persons forcibly opened the door of the vehicle and dragged out the suspect from the vehicle. The lawyer got down from his vehicle and tried to pull his client back, when a muscled man appeared and got into the van and reversed the van out of the gate premises. This was to show that the man-grab took place outside the jurisdiction of the Ratnapura Magistrate. He happened to be a policeman in plain clothes. Then the lawyer had no alternative but to appeal to the policeman on duty for help. He stated that his intentions were to produce him before the Magistrate. It was of no avail. The policeman on duty joined the party and began kicking and assaulting the accused in the presence of the crowd. A Benz appeared from nowhere: the accused was then abducted and taken away from the custody of the lawyer.

The lawyer went to court. The court had adjourned. He complained to the Magistrate. The Magistrate inquired whether the accused was in police custody. The police confirmed it. Then he ordered the police to produce him forthwith or the latest at 2pm. The police simply ignored the instructions. The accused was finally brought to court the next day.

Then came the surprise. The police forwarded a confidential report supposed to be the confession of the accused and his mistress stating that the most expensive gem was taken by the lady lawyer. There was enough and more evidence to show that the accused made this statement under torture and it was done to coerce the legal fraternity from taking any overt action against the police for having abducted the accused from the custody of his lawyer and within the premises of the Magistrate court, an act which could be termed as contempt of the authority of the court.

The lawyer who rendered a professional service to his client is under a cloud of suspicion being virtually treated as an accused who had taken stolen property from the accused. When the accused's mistress was arrested the media reported that all the gems had been recovered. They also informed a very senior lawyer from the Ratnapura Bar that all the gems had been recovered and the next step was to prosecute the accused in court. But the police brought the newscasters from Rupavahini and showed the sealed jar which contained the gems where the stone allegedly missing was clearly seen by thousands watching the Rupavahini news. This was before the police could concoct a story about a missing gem and suppress the truth of abduction.

This is a lesson to those who advocate about the pristine values of the amendment to the bail act and the police commission. No one would be safe. Politicians of the opposition and lawyers would be the first casualties. We have defended the judiciary in this column, because it is only the judges who will be able to analyze any situation and decide on the merits of the case without any fear. I remember when Vijaya Kumaratunga was produced before the Pugoda Magistrate, the SSP of the area met the Magistrate in Chambers and pleaded with him to remand Mr. Kumaratunga as his job was at stake if he failed to obtain a remand order. But the judge listened to the arguments of both the prosecution and the accused and decided to release him on bail. That was discretion that was vested with the Magistrates who were independent and steadfastly upheld the rule of law. But if this discretion were taken away by a wild piece of legislation any one who supports that will be cursed as the father of the oppressor of the liberty of the subject.

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