On Tuesday, the Karnataka High Court termed a lawyers’ body in Mysuru, which had issued a resolution restricting its members from representing a woman accused of sedition, as ‘unprofessional’. The Mysuru lawyers’ body had barred its members from representing Nalini Balakumar, a woman charged with sedition for holding a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Mysuru University last year.
A division bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Oka remarked, “Is it not unprofessional on the part of the lawyers to issue such a resolution? The Supreme Court has said this… Should you (KSBC) not take action against such lawyers. Look at the resolution, some member of the Bar has signed this…Bar Council must be proactive. These are societies of lawyers,” Bar and Bench reported.
The High Court was hearing a petition challenging the lawyers’ body’s decision to restrict lawyers from carrying out their duty. While it was reported that the Mysuru Bar Association passed the resolution restricting lawyers from appearing on behalf of Nalini, it was later alleged that the Mysore City Advocates Multipurpose Cooperative Society passed the resolution.
The High Court also asked if notices were issued to the Mysore City Advocates Multipurpose Cooperative Society. The Mysuru District Bar Association said in its inquiry that the society said it had not passed the resolution. The Mysuru Bar Association and the Karnataka State Bar Council (KSBC) are respondents in the case.
In January 2020, Nalini held a placard that read ‘Free Kashmir’ at an anti-CAA protest at Mysuru University. Photographs of the placard were published by media houses and it caught the attention of the police who singled out Nalini for inquiry. A sedition case was filed against Nalini and the organiser of the protest. Three weeks after the protest, Nalini was granted anticipatory bail by a Mysuru court after her lawyers argued that she was not propagating a separatist ideology. Her case is still pending and will be heard in the High Court next.
Petitioner Ramesh Naik said that he approached the High Court to protect the rights of lawyers to represent people and avoid cases getting politicised like this in the future.
“The same thing repeated in Hubballi in the sedition case against three Kashmiri students. My concern is that the rights of lawyers should be protected and KSBC’s silence on the matter turned the situation in Nalini’s case unpleasant and harmful. There should be no politicisation and lawyers should be allowed to represent a common person to get justice,” Ramesh Naik told TNM. He added that the right to practice law is a Constitutional right.
In February 2020, a month after Nalini Balakumar’s case came to light, the Hubballi Bar Association passed a resolution to not represent the three Kashmiri students, who were booked for sedition. Labelling their actions ‘anti-national’, the resolution added that their decision has been communicated with the Karnataka State Bar Council and urged all lawyers in the state not to represent them.
The Karnataka High Court later reprimanded the Hubballi Bar Association and stated that its resolution went against the principles of natural justice and the rights of the accused of obtaining a defence.