LAWYERS FROM ACROSS KARNATAKA TURN UP TO REPRESENT WOMAN BOOKED FOR SEDITION
Context: Several lawyers from different parts of Karnataka turned up on the Mysuru law court premises on 20th January seeking to represent Nalini Balakumar, who has been booked for sedition.
- Over 165 lawyers from Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mandya, Dharwad, and Davangere signed the ‘Vakalathnama’, expressing solidarity with Ms. Nalini after the Mysuru Advocates’ Association passed a resolution against its members appearing for persons accused in sedition cases.
- The court also took up the bail petition filed by Maridevaiah, president of the University of Mysore Research Scholars Association, who has been named as an accused in the FIR lodged by the Mysuru city police in the sedition case.
- The Mysore Bar Association had passed a resolution announcing that none of its members will represent the journalist student, Nalini Balakumar.
- She is currently facing sedition charges for holding a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during a protest organised earlier this month, by the Dalit Students’ Association and Mysore University Research Students Association, in Mysuru.
- The resolution deprives Balakumar of her fundamental right to be represented in a court of law
RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION
- In terms of the legality of the resolution, it is an established law under the Indian Constitution that every person has the basic right to legal representation.
- Article 22(1) provides that no person shall “be denied the right to consult and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice”.
- Additionally, the Supreme Court, in landmark decisions such as Hussainara Khatoon versus Home Secretary, State Of Bihar(1979and Ajmal Amir Kasab versus State of Maharashtra (2012), has clearly observed that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution implicitly includes the accused person’s fundamental right to legal aid.
- Legal rights are, in the strictest sense, correlative of legal duties, and they constitute interests that are protected by imposing corresponding duties on others.
- In other words, if an accused person has the right to legal representation, a lawyer has an unequivocal duty to provide that legal representation.
- The nature of the alleged crime, and determination of innocence or guilt of the accused, go to the substance of the trial, and are irrelevant to the issue of the accused person’s procedural right to counsel.
- The Indian Penal Code defines sedition (Section 124A) as an offence committed when “any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”.
- Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which fine may be added.
CAUSE OF CONCERN
- The sedition law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent.
- Legal experts noted that the police continue to misuse the provision even though the Supreme Court in 2016 reiterated that criticizing the government does not amount to sedition, or even defamation.
- In recent times, there has been an increase in the instances in which sedition charges were pressed against intellectuals, human rights activists, filmmakers, university teachers, students, and journalists.
Discuss the right to legal representation in the Indian constitution? Do terrorists have legal rights in India? Discuss. (15 marks)