Despite whatever heat Lokpal vs Janlokpal is generating, the present post is derived from the vehement opposition by team Anna to the proposal by Govt. to provide for free legal aid (wrongly written as aide by some) to the Accused in a proceeding before the Lokpal. In fact, on one site, Arvind Kejriwal is quoted as saying,
“For the first time in this country, the government will provide free legal aide and counsel to a corrupt official.”
What baffles me is that Team Anna, which is objecting the clause, comprises of a former cop who could have been, and should have been, appointed as Commissioner of Delhi. The team also comprises of a former Judge and His Honour Hegde has an impeccable reputation.
The clause in question is Section 56 of the Bill which is reproduced here:
56. The Lokpal shall provide to every person against whom a complaint has been made, before it, under this Act, legal assistance to defend his case before the Lokpal, if such assistance is requested for.
Let us examine what happens in a routine matter in court: An accused in a criminal matter, similarly a party in a civil action, approaches through a lawyer to present the case. In a case where a person has not engaged or cannot afford a lawyer, the Judge directs the Legal Aid Cell to provide legal representation to such a person. Without an apt legal representation, the Judge is not precluded to apply his mind to the case at hand and does examine the matter. However, a lawyer can, and always, assist the Judge.
In a case when a legal representation is not available to a person, the only plausible outcome is that the verdict in such eventuality shall be overturned by the superior court on the grounds of unfair trial since a person had no legal representation and could not present his points properly.
However, the learned Team Anna is making it quite visible that an Accused, a corrupt official according to them, should not get a free legal aid which, though, is carved on stone by our Constitution.
I cannot even imagine of calling an Accused corrupt with same conviction with which Team Anna does because deep down inside I still remember what was taught in law school that it is our job only to present a case, not to decide it. That privilege, apparently, along with Team Anna now, is only with a Judge.
By depriving a person from a legal representation, what Team Anna is assuring is that whatever result Lokpal gives, shall fall since the aggrieved person will be able to substantiate, quite easily too, that his trial was unfair and he was deprived of a legal representation.
I do not want to paste plethora of Judgement by the Apex Court and various High Courts wherein it is repeatedly held that right to free legal aid is a Constitutional Right of a person and is, therefore, Basic Structure of our Constitution. It is sufficient to state that the law is settled and a person shall get legal representation when there is no lawyer for him to present his case.
I do a lot of pro bono work and take utmost pride in presenting a case before a Judge in such a case. But, being told that an Accused official, who may ultimately succeed in getting acquittal and exoneration, cannot even arrange for a lawyer is only helping in a case where a honest person facing sponsored charges by vested interest may never get out of legal tangle and might not have his best case put forward.
I hope one of these days, Team Anna shall inform us what is the rationale for depriving someone of a Right which our Constitution gives.
God help us.