The Supreme Court Bar Association on Monday criticised the Delhi Police for raiding the office of lawyer Mehmood Pracha, who is representing several accused persons in cases related to the large-scale communal violence that took place in the Capital in February, Live Law reported.
The association said in a statement it was shocked and dismayed by the action against Pracha, which was an “arbitrary, illegal and brazen exercise of brute power”.
The bar association added that the seizure of confidential information from Pracha’s office was a blow to a lawyer’s right to work freely. “A search and seizure conducted by the police at the premises of an advocate in a proceeding not pertaining to or relating to a Member of the Bar is a malicious act which defeats the rights of an advocate to practice his profession without fear or favour,” the association said.
The association added that such raids were an attempt to force a lawyer to give in to police threats. “Such a search/seizure is in the teeth of the specific provisions of law which recognise the client lawyer relationship and protects all correspondence between the advocate and his client,” it said. The bar association added that the raid also violated the right of an accused person to fair trial.
“This encroachment on the rights of an advocate by the police violates the rights of the accused to a fair trial guaranteed under Article 21, and the protection against self incrimination guaranteed under Article 20 (3) of the Constitution of India jeopardising the rights of the client to a free trial.
The seizures of confidential information which is protected by lawyer client privilege, in a search conducted by the very police authorities who are prosecuting the lawyer’s clients, will prejudicially affect the rights and guarantees of the accused. It is illegal and contravenes all canons of protection available to a client and his lawyers.”— Supreme Court Bar Association
The association also expressed concern about magistrates routinely granting search warrants for lawyers’ officers. “The grant of a search warrant by the Magistracy to search a lawyer’s office in a routine mechanical manner, particularly in respect of a lawyer’s communication and correspondences, is antithetical to rule of law and constitutes a disturbing violation of this privilege directly affecting the administration of justice,” it added.
The bar association demanded that the Delhi Police stop using information recovered from the devices that it had seized from Pracha.
The Special Cell of the Delhi Police had raided Pracha’s office on Thursday. The lawyer said that the police seized his computer and laptop. The police, meanwhile, said they were searching for “incriminating documents” and “metadata of outbox” of the official email address of Pracha’s firm.
The police action against Pracha triggered huge outrage, with many pointing out how it brazenly violated attorney-client privilege. In August, the Delhi Police had filed a first information report against Pracha, alleging that the advocate had “tutored” victims to give false statements in riot-related cases.
Delhi riots and the investigation
Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 in North East Delhi, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The Delhi Police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods.
The Delhi Police claim the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was hatched by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Act. They further claimed the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the façade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.
Two chargesheets have been filed so far in connection with the violence. In September, a case of rioting was registered at the Khajuri Khas Police Station in which 15 people, including suspended Aam Aadmi Party Councillor Tahir Hussain, were arrested. All the 15 have been accused under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Indian Penal Code and Arms Act. The 17,000-page chargesheet was filed at Karkardooma court.
On November 22, the Delhi Police filed a supplementary chargesheet against former student leader Umar Khalid and two other Jawaharlal Nehru University student activists Sharjeel Imam and Faizan Khan in the case. In the 200-page chargesheet, the police claimed that Khalid had “remotely controlled” the violence. The former JNU student was accused of orchestrating the violence during United States President Donald Trump’s visit to Delhi.