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Prominent American lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston once said,
"A lawyer is either a social engineer or he is a parasite on society."
Recently, I was watching the movie Section 375, which is about a director Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat) facing charges of raping a female member of his crew, Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra) at his residence. In the movie, the Sessions Court convicts Rohan Khurana and he appeals to the Bombay High Court against this judgment.
Here, a heavy weight lawyer Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) enters appearance for the Director and Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chadda), a young firebrand lawyer who was once Saluja’s junior, appears for the prosecution. The defence lawyer’s central argument is that there was an extramarital affair going on between Rohan Khurana and Anjali Dangle and what happened was only consensual sex and not rape.
At one point, the defence lawyer says,
“This crime is nothing short of rape. But your Honours, it’s not rape...This case is not about Ms. Dangle’s rape, it is about her revenge.”
However the prosecution succeeds and Rohan Khurana is convicted for rape. After the Court rises, Anjali Dangle meets her lawyer Hiral Gandhi in the corridors and says,
“Tarun Sir was right. What Rohan Khurana did wasn’t rape. But it was nothing short of it. Thank you for your help.”
At this moment, Hiral Gandhi realises that the case is not about Ms. Dangle’s rape, it is about her revenge. She feels guilty about the case and tells her Senior regretfully that she thinks justice wasn’t done. Saluja replies saying that,
“We are not in the business of justice. We are in the business of law.”
This movie reminded me of a case which took place at the High Court of Kerala almost a year back. A prominent builder who had been in the real estate sector approached the High Court against a stop memo (stop memos are orders issued to shut down a business following complaints/irregularities) issued to him against construction of an ongoing apartment project of theirs.
Another writ petition was earlier preferred by a person living adjacent to the construction site, alleging that the construction was doing severe damage to his house. It was on the basis of this person’s complaint that the local bodies had issued a stop memo against the construction of the building. The monsoon season was over and the construction was in full swing, when the builder received the setback by way of the stop memo.
The person behind the complaint and their firebrand lawyer, who is also a popular ‘human rights activist’, knew very well that the builder really wanted to carry on with the construction. The Bench heard the matter at a slow pace was not keen on passing an interim order to allow the construction to go on.
The Court appointed an expert body to study the impact of the construction activities being carried out by the builder. The expert body submitted a report stating that there is no damage happening as alleged. There were only some minor cracks in a bathroom which was situated outside the house.
After the expert body submitted its report, the firebrand lawyer representing the person who owned the house near the construction site, asked the builder’s lawyer if the matter could be settled. The builder’s lawyer said,
To which the other lawyer remarked,
My friend, who was representing the builder, was taken aback and was not at all willing to let his clients settle for this shady deal.
Unfortunately, the firebrand human rights activist lawyer approached the builder directly with his one crore offer and they agreed, as they were in dire need to complete the project. They had pressure from their clients who had booked apartments which were part of this project, and had to allot flats from their other projects, to owners who wanted to back out of this existing project, owing to the delay and the legal issues involved.
The case was going on for several months and they wanted to put an end to the matter. Finally, the deal was finalised for fifty lakh rupees and the matter was settled as the cases were withdrawn by the respective parties.
The friend who was representing the builder told me with a heavy heart about the shady deal and how lawyers are misusing the provisions of law for their own unjust enrichments. He was upset over the fact that despite no fault on the part of the builder, they lost the case outside the Court.
From a business perspective, the builder might have done the right thing. Had he gone ahead with the case, it would have taken many more years for the legal battle to conclude and the loss of business due to the case might have done him more damage than the Rs. 50 lakh he lost. He would have lost both his reputation as well as his business.
Did the law fail here? Yes it did! It had failed to protect an upright businessman and allowed him to be exploited. The reasons for the failure are not singular and can be attributed to various factors, including a slow paced judicial system and a firebrand unethical lawyer.
Often, judges are reluctant to pass orders against the government. Instead of deciding them judiciously, Courts often dispose of cases with a mere direction to the government to consider a representation of the petitioner. This is usually the case with judges who have served as government pleaders for a very long period. I am not saying that all judges who were government pleaders are reluctant to pass orders against the government, but there are such judges. And at many times, this leads to a situation where injudicious judgments are being passed by the Courts.
I vividly remember another case where the petitioner was challenging the illegal construction carried out by a government body and the petitioner was seeking an interim stay on the construction activities being carried out. The State’s regulatory body also filed a counter affidavit stating that the construction going on was illegal and without any kind of permission.
Despite having everything on his side, the petitioner was declined an interim relief of stay against the construction activity without any valid reasons. On another hearing, the judge even orally asked the Government Pleader to complete the construction activities immediately, lest he pass orders against them!
I don’t intend to belittle our judicial system or any young firebrand lawyers. I only mean to highlight the fact that these kinds of parasite lawyers who project themselves as activists affect the credibility of other activist lawyers who raise and agitate genuine issues and causes.
The movie Section 375 rightly conveyed that law is not equal to justice; justice is an ideal and law is a tool to get there. These are instances were justice fails and law triumphs. I only hope that the breed of these firebrand activist lawyers reduce and justice triumphs. Else, these parasites will eat into the judicial system and trigger its collapse.