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The Madras High Court recently noted that an advocate cannot be penalised simply because he does his professional duty to defend a client accused of having Maoist links. As noted in its order,
“Appearing for a Maoist is not a crime. On the other hand, if a Maoist accused of an offence seeks the professional assistance of a lawyer, it is his duty to defend.”
Justice MV Muralidaran made the observation while discharging one, advocate Murugan who was implicated in a Maoist case after a client he represented confessed to having Maoist links.
The client in question, Srinivasan, had confessed to the crime while in police custody back in January 2017, which in turn prompted the police to add his advocate, Murugan, to the FIR already prepared. The police claimed that Murugan had handed over incriminating Maoist material to Srinivasan in 2016. They also relied on the testimony given by two others in April 2017 in relation to these allegations. Further, the police claimed that Murugan had given financial aid to another person with Maoist links.
All of this, the police contended, showed that Murugan had the same criminal objective as Srinivasan and that he had acted in a manner unbecoming of an Advocate and beyond legal ethics.
A challenge made to this implication was dismissed by the Assistant Sessions judge in September 2017. On further appeal before the High Court, however, Justice Muralidaran found that there was no prima facie case made out to add Murugan to the list of accused.
The confession by Srinivasan by itself could not be relied upon to implicate Murugan in the case, particularly when the FIR itself did not name Murugan. The High Court found that the prosecution could not produce any reliable material to prima facie implicate Murugan in the case. Therefore, it discharged Murugan from the case, concluding that the routine conduct of a lawyer while defending a client accused of Maoist links, cannot be held against him.
“… it is apposite to mention that the petitioner is a practising Advocate and he was appearing for the Maoists…. as rightly submitted by the learned counsel for the petitioner, with an ulterior motive to prevent the petitioner from defending the innocent Maoists, he has been implicated in this case.
As a lawyer, the petitioner is said to have contacted the accused persons and during meeting some conversations took place between them. For example, meeting of an accused person in the prison by a lawyer, would not mean that there was criminal conspiracy between them. “
Read the Order: