26/11 trial - professional misconduct by the special public prosecutor
As the world watched the Special court in Mumbai deliver its verdict on the 26 November Mumbai terror attack trial where the sole apprehended terrorist was convicted of mass murder and waging war against the State, among other crimes, a very different and rather sordid game played out right outside the court complex at the close of the trial.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam emerged from the courtroom, walking straight to the hoards of mediapersons outside, waving the victory sign, holding up a brochure, and on it, a picture of the convict Ajmal Amir Kasab, a large and very conspicuous noose, and the name "Ujjwal Nikam - Special Public Prosecutor" in big bold letters. He then went on to address the media for over 15 minutes, giving details, not of the court's verdict or proceedings, but his own experiences in this trial and others, often resorting to cheap analogies (he referred to Kasab as a circus monkey at one point) and long drawn sermons on his own thoughts on terrorism. He also repeatedly used the words "Pak terrorist" , and used other degrading terms with reference to Pakistan and Kasab.
Now one might ask what the trouble is with people rejoicing over a terrorist being punished to hang until death, and what's wrong with a lawyer who fought a long and arduous court battle enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame? Were it any other individual, unconnected with the case, they would, of course, be free to speak their mind as they wish. That, however does not apply to an Advocate, specially with reference to his case, and this case, of all. To substantiate the little portrait of his character being drawn here, reference may be made to some of what the print and TV media had to say about Mr. Nikam. The Mail Today newspaper said Nikam was "over-zealous" and "went overboard with his epithets". The Indian express reports that earlier this year 20 of Nikam's fellow lawyers passed a motion condemning him for speaking outside the court to waiting media, who have provided saturation coverage of the trial and NDTV noted him to be "every bit the star of the show".
With the above in mind, let's take a look at just what this lawyer did and continues to do wrong. Chapter V of the Advocate's Act of 1961 deals with the conduct of Advocates. Part V, read with Chapter II, Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules. One could open and rest his argument in the current case from a simple reading of the preamble itself, which reads, in part:
"An advocate shall, at all times, comport himself in a manner befitting his status as an officer of the Court, a privileged member of the community, and a gentleman, bearing in mind that what may be lawful and moral for a person who is not a member of the Bar, or for a member of the Bar in his non-professional capacity may still be improper for an advocate."
The rules also state under Section IV Rule 36, that:
"An advocate shall not solicit work or advertise, either directly or indirectly, whether by circulars, advertisements, touts, personal communications, interviews not warranted by personal relations, furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments or producing his photographs to be published in connection with cases in which he has been engaged or concerned."
Clear inferences can be drawn from the above rules, which will find Mr. Nikam guilty of professional misconduct by flashing his name and making long speeches to the media outside the court room not only after the conclusion but also during the trial, on several occasions. While the people of our country rejoice, breathe a sigh of relief and reaffirm their faith in the criminal justice system, whether one of the key people behind the conviction of Ajmal Kasab conducted himself, morally and professionally, in a manner befitting a member of the Bar is a question that remains to be answered, and in the glitz and limelight of this phenomenal trial will perhaps never be answered.
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