Duty to defend: Lawyer’s moral obligation to represent unpopular client

Maintenance of law and order within a society is of utmost importance and lawyers play a key role in ensuring that law and order is maintained. The profession of a lawyer is a noble one and a lawyer is often seen as someone who fights for the rights of individuals and defends them in the trickiest of situations. But a lawyer is not always applauded or appreciated for his acts and many a times he faces condemnation from the society for defending the guilty or who is often called as the “unpopular client”. So it can be said that the lawyer is equated to both the God and the Devil depending upon the situation.

Even within the Indian legal system the situation is no different. Often the lawyers (especially the criminal lawyers) who decide to defend a client irrespective of the offence they have committed howsoever grave it is, face condemnation and public outrage for their decision of defending such a client. Moreover it is not just the public front from where they face the heat, but they also face fury from the media houses at times. All in all, on several occasions the lawyer is associated to the actions of his client due to which he faces such condemnation. This gives rise to a very important issue i.e. whether the lawyers should be guided by ethical values and notions of justice while selecting to represent any client?.

In this piece I shall deal with this issue and discuss the whole idea of the duty that a lawyer has, to defend his client in great detail along with a client’s right to legal representation. Moreover, I would argue as to why it is important for the lawyers to represent their clients even though they are considered as unpopular clients. Over the years there has been a lot of debate on whether it is morally right for a lawyer to represent an accused. Indian society has most of the times looked down upon such advocates who have decided to defend the accused. 

Through this piece, I would further discuss the concept of “Cab Rank Rule” and would analyse why it becomes important for the lawyer to represent a client irrespective of the guilt of the accused and the thinking of the society. The piece would further throw some light on several landmark judgments wherein the criminal lawyers defended unpopular clients and fulfilled their duty and moral obligation of being a lawyer. Cases where the lawyers defended the accused irrespective of the fact that, they knew the accused had committed the offence and the whole society was against them, such as defending Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist who was involved in the 26/11 attacks, the rapists in the Nirbhaya Rape Case, the case that shook the entire nation and several such other matters. In the end, I would conclude by arguing in favour of a lawyer’s duty to defend and would try and devise a new defensive strategy that can be adopted by the lawyers to justify their actions and to fight against the moral condemnation that they face by the society or the media whenever they defend an unpopular client. 

CLIENT’S RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION

While discussing a lawyer’s duty and the moral obligation that he has to defend his client, it is very important to understand that a client is also entitled to legal aid and representation and it becomes essential to discuss a lawyer’s duty to defend vis-à-vis a client’s right to legal representation. An individual is entitled to legal aid and representation and at times when a situation arises where the person who is in need of legal aid is not that financially sound then in such situations there are instruments which state that such person has right to free legal aid. There are several international instruments that provide for an individual’s right to legal aid and representation.

First, it is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR). A declaration that came into force so as to protect the basic human rights of the individuals. The UDHR has emphasized a lot on the welfare of poor and one of the main objectives of it has been to protect the basic fundamental rights of the people. If the Preamble of the Declaration is looked at carefully it recognises that the rights of the individuals are indeed the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. From its language it is pretty much evident that equality and justice are the main objectives of the declaration and that providing legal aid to the needy becomes sine-qua-non for the achievement of the objective enshrined in the preamble of the UDHR. Some of the relevant articles of the UDHR are Article 1, 7 and 10.

Article 1 mainly focusses on the aspect of equality in dignity and rights. Equality is very essential and even social justice is intrinsically connected to it. Therefore, promoting equality helps in providing legal aid to everyone. Article 7 is even more relevant since it provides that each and every individual is equal before the law and everyone is entitled to legal protection and legal aid without any discrimination. It also states that no person should be denied legal protection and representation just because he does not have the financial capacity and in such situations it is the duty of the state to provide all such people who are in need even if it is out of state expenditure. Moreover it is important to note that several articles of the Indian Constitution hold a close similarity with this provision such as Article 14, 15, 16 and 39A. Article 10 is also pretty relevant as it provides that everyone should get an opportunity to be heard by an independent and impartial tribunal in determination of his rights. Additionally, ‘hearing’ means that the aggrieved person should be heard through a counsel (lawyer). Furthermore, Article 50 of the Indian Constitution holds similarity with this with this provision of the UDHR and is based on a similar concept.

Another international instrument that mandates legal aid and equality before the courts is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 14(1) of the ICCPR explicitly provides that all the persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The press and the public may be excluded from all or part of a trial for reasons of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, or when the interest of the private lives of the parties so requires, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice; but any judgement rendered in a criminal case or in a suit at law shall be made public except where the interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires or the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children.

Moreover, Article 14(3) lists out certain minimum guarantees that an individual is entitled to while determination of any criminal charge against him, in full equality:

To be informed promptly the nature and cause of the charge against him;

To have an adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing;

To be tried without undue delay;

To be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it;

Now looking at the Indian perspective, Article 39A of the Indian Constitution provides for the right to legal aid and representation. It provides that the State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

Importantly, we must consider the case of Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. Vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, a landmark judgment, where the Supreme Court held in favour of the under trial prisoners who were imprisoned for long periods without any justification. Moreover the key take away from the case is that Article 39A is a constitutional directive that emphasizes on the fact that free legal aid and a proper representation is an essential element of the ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure. Further this right is to be considered implicit in the guarantee of Article 21.

THE MORAL OBLIGATION OF LAWYER TO DEFEND THE UNPOPULAR CLIENT

As discussed above the lawyer’s duty to defend arises out of a client’s right to legal aid and representation. Even the individuals who have been accused of committing heinous crimes also have right to legal aid and representation and are entitled to have a fair and just trial.

“Innocent until proven Guilty” is a well-known saying which implies that any individual cannot be convicted for a crime until he is proven guilty of committing the said offence. According to this, the onus of proving the guilt of the accused lies on the prosecution and the job of the defence counsel is to poke holes in the theory of the prosecution. Consequently, a defence lawyer plays an important role during a legal proceeding. But at times the defence lawyers face the heat of the public and media for defending clients who have been accused of committing heinous crimes such as rape, murder, an act of terrorism etc. and in such situations the dilemma that arises is “whether a lawyer should be guided by ethical values and notion of justice while selecting to represent any client” or “whether a lawyer should be affected by personal opinions and public opinions while choosing to represent a client”.

Especially in India, it is even more relevant because the public more often than not associates a lawyer to the actions of his client and questions his moral and ethical values. Moreover, the public condemns the lawyer who chooses to represent a client that is unpopular or who has committed a grave offence. In response to the aforementioned dilemma, it is first important to understand that a lawyer is an officer of the court and it is his duty to defend his client irrespective of the offence that the client has committed. In other words, a lawyer has not only a moral but also a legal and constitutional obligation to defend his clients to the best of his abilities and that a lawyer cannot allow his personal beliefs or morals to affect his professional duties. This obligation is based out of an English concept known as the “cab-rank” principle/rule.

CAB RANK PRINCIPLE

The “cab-rank” principle basically states that every lawyer must accept the brief that comes before them and provide the necessary legal assistance unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise. The principle is based on the idea of a cab driver who is standing at the head of a queue at a taxi stand and is supposed to offer his services to the first passenger who approaches for a ride.

It is also pertinent to note that Section 1 of the Advocates Act explicitly mentions about the duties of an advocate towards his client and its rule 11 is based on the “cab-rank” principle. So the “cab-rank” rule has some relevance within the Indian legal system as well. Rule 11 of the Advocates act provides that “An advocate is bound to accept any brief in the Courts or Tribunals or before any other authorities in or before which he proposes to practise at a fee consistent with his standing at the Bar and the nature of the case: “Special circumstances may justify his refusal to accept a particular brief”. This provision within the Advocates act makes it pretty much clear that the lawyer has a moral obligation to represent his client irrespective of the offence that he has committed. Usually in the practical world, it is not followed though. At times the lawyers refuses to take up a particular case because he fears that taking up such a case would invite public outrage or where he himself feels that his personal morals would not allow him to defend such a client. There have been various landmark cases where either the lawyers refused to take up the case or they faced massive public outrage for defending the accused.

One such case is the case of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only terrorist who was captured alive during the 26/11 attacks. There was a massive public outrage which was quite understandable considering the horrendous crime that he had committed killing hundreds of innocent people, but does that mean that he should have been hanged straight away without following the due process of law? The answer to it is “No”. An individual who is a dreaded terrorist also has a right to fair trial even if the offence that he has committed and charges that have been levelled against him are as clear as a daylight. In this case the Bombay metropolitan magistrate’s court bar association unanimously decided not to represent the terrorist in court and hence the government appointed Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran as a state appointed amicus curiae in the case. Post the verdict while giving an interview, Senior Advocate Ramachandran acknowledged the lawyer’s duty to defend and stated “when an accused is undefended the court appoints a lawyer to defend him. To refuse to assist the court, when asked, is a dereliction of duty”.

He further emphasized on the fact that within an adversarial system it is important for an accused to have counsel for a fair trial. He stated that a counsel is important for an accused because the accused has a right to assert his or her innocence and to poke holes in the case of the prosecution. The counsel must say everything in the favour of the accused that needs to be said.

Another prominent criminal lawyer, late shri. Ram Jethmalani also pressed on the fact that no lawyer can refuse to defend an accused until and unless there are compelling reasons for the same and it is the moral duty of a lawyer to provide his services to the accused howsoever unpopular he is. With several lawyers declining to take up the case of the terrorist Ajmal Kasab and denying to provide their services back in 2008, Mr. Ram Jethmalani stated that “there is express rule of Bar Council of India that no lawyer shall refuse to defend a person on the grounds that it will make him unpopular”. Further in an interview he state that “no lawyer has the right to say that he will not defend an accused”. So it is pretty evident that over the years, even the biggest names in the business, have advocated for a lawyer’s duty to defend even though they faced heat of the public and media for defending an unpopular client.

If we look at the Nirbhaya Rape case wherein the four accused were hanged previous year, the situation was a bit different. The lawyers representing the accused in the case gave their all to reduce the death penalty to life imprisonment and to delay the hanging. They tried their best to make a strong case for the accused even though it was an open and shut case. Although the ‘public speeches’ and ‘conduct’ of some of the Nirbhaya Lawyers may be problematic in the eyes of the people, however, they did succeed in providing qualitative legal representation to the convicts throughout the judicial proceedings. In this way, the lawyers representing the accused fulfilled their moral obligation and their duty to defend the accused despite the fact that the crime they committed was a heinous one.

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, the lawyer has a duty to defend an accused irrespective of the crime that he has committed. It is not that a terrorist or a rapist should not be punished for the crime that they have committed but punishing them is the duty of the court when there guilt is proved. A lawyer’s duty is to provide his services to the client and put in his best effort when representing the client. It is also important because if an accused be it a terrorist or rapist is not given a proper representation or an opportunity to present his case, then the fairness of the trial would come into question. When it comes to public outrage or a parallel media trial, a lawyer should not that take that into consideration while choosing a client and instead they should give priority to their professional duties. Lawyers are officers of the court and their primary duty is to provide assistance and aid to their clients and assist the court in deciding the guilt or innocence of individuals. In conclusion, I would like to recall the with wise words of the legendary criminal lawyer late Sh. Ram Jethmalani: “I decide according to my conscience who to defend. A lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the ground that people believe him to be guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct.”

The post Duty to defend: Lawyer’s moral obligation to represent unpopular client appeared first on The Daily Guardian.

Recommended For You

About the Author: - -