Thursday, September 19, 2013

Being a Criminal Lawyer

This is a long post. But an interesting one as usual. Read it or continue living in the biased shell you have created - the choice is yours.

Way too many high profile cases have been coming into limelight these days. The crime ratio has certainly gone up, but it wasn't non-existent earlier. It might have been at par with the current time too. I am too lazy to find out these facts, compare data etc., but it's a plain common sense - population has increased, we are technologically more advanced, more powerful and rich.

But the most important aspect of these stories becoming more and more popular is that there are 20+ news channels now that run 24x7. There are more newspapers and magazines - print media as well as online media. Everything runs round the clock. Even before the criminal wipes his fingerprints from the gun, he is live on TV, or you are reading 1000 tweets a second about the crime that he committed. Every single thing becomes breaking news. Every shit news is repeated a hundred times, to an extent that you even remember when exactly the news reader takes a pause while talking.

Delhi Rape case judgment was a very recent thing that caught media attention. Out of six accused, one committed suicide (or murdered is still a mystery), the Juvenile got three years of imprisonment and remaining four were awarded capital punishment. But more than the result, what caught media's attention was their lawyer AP Singh's arguments. In the courtroom, he made statements like "If my daughter was having premarital sex and moving around at night with her boyfriend, I would have burnt her alive. I would not have let this situation happen. All parents should adopt such an attitude." 

Second incident was that of a very popular lawyer who is loved and admired by most of the lawyers I know - Ram Jethmalani. He recently took up Aasaram's case who is accused of sexual assault on a minor girl. While arguing for Aasaram's bail plea in the court, he said that the girl in question was mentally unstable and needed to go to men for that purpose. 

As a normal person when I read these statements, I feel like slapping these lawyers for this. I want to punish them as well along with the accused. How can they be so insensitive about such grave issues? How can they say things like - the girl is at fault, or she should be careful and guard her own safety, her parents should be more cautious and so on. 

Now think from these lawyers' point of view. When we get our degrees, we go to Bar Council of India to register ourselves as lawyers. There, we take an oath to defend our clients when we take up their case. We can lie in the court in order to defend them, we are not supposed to hand over the evidence that goes against our clients, and we cannot be punished for these things. The logic is that every person has a right to defend oneself. They have a right to appoint a lawyer to do so on their behalf since a lawyer has better experience and expertise in legal matters.

There are criminals like terrorists, rapists, murderers - some of them become too popular due to the gruesome nature of the crime they have committed. Everyone knows they are guilty of that crime. There are plenty of eyewitnesses, evidences against them. You would think that none of the lawyers will take up their case as they do not want to lose. You look at the whole situation from right and wrong perspective. For you, they are criminals and must be punished. In some cases they shouldn't even be given a trial. But these are all sentimental views.

Look at it from a lawyer's point of view now. You have a high profile case in front of you. A terrorist caught in action, rapists of the most popular case, one religious guru who is popular internationally. If not you, then court will appoint someone as their lawyer to defend them. Media keeps a track of each and every detail of these cases.

Now imagine, you are a small time lawyer. Not very popular. Legal practice is your bread and butter. You are not going to be punished for calling a criminal innocent even if there are 100 witnesses. Your statements get quoted in each and every newspaper and news channel. Your interview is telecast after each hearing. People know your name, your face. They may hate you, but they now know you. You are merely doing your job, and becoming a known face while doing so. What's wrong with that? For lawyers, it's their profession. We care a damn if one has committed one murder or ten murders. We have to choose one side - defend the criminal or don't take up the case. Starve, be unsuccessful, run behind people and make affidavits so that you can make 1000 Rs. at the end of the day. Yes, people do that too. And some have managed to buy a house too in Bombay by running behind people outside courts. But does everyone prefer such a life?

Yes, AP Singh got carried away. He made an insensitive statement in the court. He had to defend his clients. Even though they were guilty. He had to try his best. He was under an oath to do so. Just for some time, forget the gruesome nature of Jyoti Pandey case. If you are an 80's kid, or born even before that, ask your parents about safety and security. 90% of them are of the opinion that one has to be careful about one's own safety. They do believe that one should be home by so and so time. That's how they have been brought up. That's the kind of life they lived. AP Singh got carried away which was a huge mistake, but he just put forward his argument. Had it not been for media, nobody would have paid any attention to his statements. How many of you have read the entire judgment of any case anyway? Some of you may have, but majority of you rely on the summary published by news media.

Now look at Ram Jethmalani. He is very popular. Can you imagine his fees? Can you imagine how much he would be charging per hearing, per appearance, per consultancy? If he doesn't represent such high profile accused, he will have to sit at home, jobless. Again, his arguments were silly, but how can you be sure that he never used them before or they didn't work for him before? Same goes with AP Singh too. They are a part of some popular case, thus their statements are attracting attention from everywhere. They may be the most insensitive bunch of people you have had come across, but they are there for a reason, and that reason is good enough for them. They don't really care about what you think about them. 

They say that lawyers are heartless. If all the lawyers start taking care of their hearts, half the population will die of hunger. There are so many lawyers who never take up cases where they know that the accused is guilty of the crime. They are strict about the kind of cases they take up. All of us have our own principles. And we work accordingly.

I believe, when you have decided to practice a particular profession, you shouldn't worry about what others think of the kind of work you take up so far as you are doing what you are supposed to do. If a criminal is shot, a doctor still tries to save his life like any other patient. Same goes for a lawyer too. You do not demand to prosecute an action against the doctor, then why the lawyer? I have certain principles too. They are decided by me. And I abide by them. I do not break my own rules I have set for any amount of money. No, they are not purely on morality grounds. I am a heartless lawyer too. But I do not take up litigation. Court practice is not my cup of tea. I enjoy the power position. I like to take my own decisions. I do not like to rely on the judgment announced by someone superior. I do not like to be on the losing side. I prefer to be on the side where I decide what's right for you and why you should be doing a particular thing the way I want you to. I have studied and learnt everything for a reason. You are asking me because there are some things I am better at than you. 

Don't ever ridicule a professional. Try to understand their stand. They are doing their job. Just like you. They are inhuman so that they can save you when you need to be saved. They don't have a heart so that they can give you a right solution without wasting your or their time. Their clear mind helps them take the right decision and give the right advice. Trust them, don't abuse them. In some cases, to a great extent, your life depends on them.

PS: I do not give legal advice for free.


  1. Hi,
    Newbie to your blog. Very well written indeed.
    I always wanted to know why lawyers took up a terrorist's case. Your argument is based on their professionalism and the perks which come with it.
    Yes, I do agree with it. Also the fact that when a doctor is not condemned for saving a criminal, why is a lawyer condemned. Interesting.
    Let's leave alone media and what it feeds us for a moment.
    I, for one believe, we are selfish people. Like a lawyer aims at the inherent benefits of taking up a case, people have their own agenda too. Society, out of its personal greed for safety, almost always opposes people defending terrorists, rapists or murderers because it has a direct impact on it.
    And frankly, I wouldn't like to live in a society which does not have the collective conscience to oppose people who take up the case of a Kasab or a Afzal guru.

    1. Azad, welcome here.

      Lawyers never take up a terrorist's case voluntarily. Court appoints a lawyer to defend a terrorist when he fails to find one. And a lawyer cannot refuse to take it up. Further he has to defend the terrorist like anyone else he would defend in his capacity.

      You cannot possibly hate him for following the court order and constitutional provisions. It's his duty.

  2. Interesting. I always wondered why the defending lawyers said such outrageous and weird things and how could they defend a criminal. Agreed that somebody has to defend a criminal, but the same can be done without saying such ridiculous things too. Will AP Singh get more cases after what he said in the media? I mean, who will trust him to defend them?

    1. Haha, not everyone is good at giving a smartass reply. Point is, we don't know whether or not it's a general practice to give out such outrageous statements and arguments. People forget what they argued. They just remember the lawyer. That's it.

  3. Its well known aspect that a lawyer has to defend his/her client but can't be this done without mentioning awkward statements in public or court. Lets take A P Singh , he had become famous from the time he took the case and for large section of masses - a hated figure... mentioning of stupid thoughts before the judge had only weakened his case.. In spite of using the circumstantial evidences, these 15th century beliefs had put an iota of suspicion over his thought process. If we say they are just doing this for the sake of RKM ( roti-kapda-makaan)and get away easily than no one in the world is to blame over her/his conduct, Netas-officers-criminals all are justified. But when we put a social responsibility aspect than these lawyers along with all citizens too have to answer the society for their conduct. As you have mentioned that a lawyer has to take cases even of dreaded terrorists like afzal guru and kasab but the reason for that is natural justice that is incorporated in law system.

    1. Mahendra, you are talking about him becoming a hated figure for educated mass, for most Indians, it was a valid argument. They firmly believe in these principles. A few of us cannot change their mentality. Let's hope the future generation is a better one and more educated.

    2. lets not loose the hope for a better future in early race of life. Ya its true we can't change the mentality but we also know that "Kaun kehta hai ki aasmaan mein suraakh ho nahi sakta ek patthar to tabiyat se uchaalo yaaron ". As Swami dayanand has said " Tum badloge Yug badlega" the time will come wen most of us will feel the responsibility.

  4. I understand your stand, Neha, as a lawyer. See! I am a layman and do not understand such things. But, the likes of Ram Jethmalani, A P Singh and ML Sharma reeks of conservatism and should be punished. I wonder why no actions been taken against them as I see no relations between legal arguments and reason.
    Thanks for reading my comments.

  5. Nice post. Loved reading it. I think this Mr. A.P. Singh got too emotional. Doctors and Lawyers should not get emotional. If a patient dies at the operating table and the surgeon is sorry/upset, then he will never perform another operation in his life. Same way for the lawyers too. They get paid. They do their jobs to their best. That is it.

    I do not know about India. In USA, lawyers do “pro bono” work on famous cases just to get publicity. Unknown lawyers become famous if they win an “impossible” case. Remember the famous “Twinkie Defense”. Here it is for the benefit of all your readers:

  6. Hi Neha,

    Agreed. Everyone doesn't want to lead their lives running around making affidavits.

    Agreed. You can't say no when you're appointed by the Court. But does that mean he has to lie and defend the criminal? Does defending become so much more important that lying is okay? If there were some morals left in the people who made all those statements, their main aim would have been to bring out the truth or in some cases(like Kasab's) show that what was seen on the television was in fact true. As a lawyer, I don't think you would be taught that defending your client is the most important thing. Is it like that?

    Also the statement "They are inhuman so that they can save you when you need to be saved." is very concerning. Why should anyone be saved if they are wrong? It doesn't make sense. People decide for themselves, make their own principles and stuff. That's fine. But, saying that by doing what they are doing, they are actually doing their job certainly shouldn't be right. How can that be part of their job? It's plain wrong.

  7. Although, I differ from you in many ways, but it was good to know things from a Lawyer's perspective.

  8. In the heat people in their profession tend to do silly things. Indian media is anyways nitpick and trying to add masala rather than looking at a different perspective.

    Adding the example of Rafa Benitez here. He took up Chelsea job last season, he didn't love the club, the fans hated him always. But he had to do what he had to do. Sometimes even his good tactics were ridiculed.

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