On Tuesday, September 12, Senior Advocate Anand Grover informed the Supreme Court that a specific community in Manipur is compelled to seek assistance from the Supreme Court because lawyers are unwilling to represent them due to threats. To illustrate this, he mentioned the case of Professor Kham Khan Suan Hausing in the Manipur High Court, where lawyers withdrew from the case after one of their offices was vandalized.
Anand Grover represented two clients in front of a bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud. The first petitioner was Henminlun, an activist, who was the subject of an FIR related to a speech he had delivered. The second petitioner was Vijaykant Cheni, a retired colonel of the Indian Army at the age of 76, facing an FIR for his book titled “The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-19: Victory in Defeat,” published in January 2022.
During the hearing, Grover explained that the petitioners struggled to secure legal representation within the state of Manipur. This was because lawyers who had previously represented cases like theirs in the High Court had their offices and chambers vandalized and were now unwilling to take on such cases. Grover emphasized, “A book was published by him a year ago. He’s a colonel. There is not a word about the communities in the book, just military tactics, and he is being prosecuted. In Manipur, the lawyers’ homes and offices were ransacked, and two of them are currently displaced, making it impossible for them to provide me with instructions.”
During the proceedings, Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, who was representing the State of Manipur, questioned the assertion that lawyers were being targeted for representing certain parties. He stated that this issue had been raised repeatedly and that whenever there’s a riot or conflict, it’s not necessarily the lawyers who represented those involved who are attacked.
In response, Anand Grover countered by stating that indeed, the lawyers who represented the affected parties were being targeted. He offered to provide photographs as evidence of the shocking incidents and explained that three lawyers from Imphal, belonging to a particular community, had to withdraw their appearance before the court. Their houses and offices were vandalized, and one of them had to flee, while the other sought refuge in a CRPF camp. Grover expressed his frustration in trying to find legal representation for his clients due to these circumstances.
However, SG Tushar Mehta maintained that the High Court of Manipur was in session and suggested there might be a pattern of certain counsels misrepresenting the situation to the Supreme Court. He proposed that the secretary general of the Supreme Court contact the registrar general of the High Court to confirm its status. Mehta pointed out that lawyers were appearing both physically and virtually in the High Court, implying that there might be more to the situation than meets the eye and suggested the existence of a larger pattern involving a particular section of lawyers.
The Chief Justice of India, acknowledging that the petitioner was a retired colonel and deserved protection, expressed the importance of safeguarding him, stating, “He is a retired colonel. He wrote a book. He must be protected.” The only question raised was whether the court should take action to protect them there, or send them back to the High Court.
In response to this concern, the bench asked Anand Grover if the petitioner would be willing to file an affidavit stating the difficulties he faced in finding a lawyer to represent him in the High Court for a proceeding under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. Grover agreed to this request.
As a result, interim protection was granted to the petitioner. The court declared that until the next scheduled hearing date, no punitive actions will be initiated against the petitioner concerning FIR No. 661(8)2023, which was filed on August 9, 2023, at the Imphal West District Police Station in Manipur.
The Chief Justice further emphasized the challenge of finding lawyers willing to appear on behalf of the petitioner in the High Court, indicating that the Supreme Court recognized the difficulties faced by the petitioner in securing legal representation.
During the proceedings, Anand Grover reiterated his earlier submission, emphasizing that he would face great difficulty going to the High Court to seek legal representation for the petitioner because the petitioner belonged to a minority community. Grover stated that nobody would be willing to appear for him in Imphal, as all the lawyers from that community had been ousted, and there were no lawyers available to take up such cases. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta raised an objection to Grover’s statement and requested that it be presented in the form of an affidavit for official documentation.
In response to SG’s objection, Grover pointed out a recent resolution passed by the Supreme Court Bar Association that condemned the attacks against lawyers in Manipur. He also mentioned that in the case of Professor Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a legal aid lawyer had to be appointed because other lawyers had withdrawn from the case. Grover highlighted the financial challenges faced in affording legal representation.
In the closing of the proceedings, the Chief Justice of India directed the petitioners to file an affidavit, as previously mentioned. The CJI expressed the seriousness of the situation, stating that if there is substance to the claims, it is indeed a grave matter that lawyers are unwilling to appear in cases. The court outlined a process: first, the client would need to provide the affidavit, then the State of Manipur would be asked to verify the claims, and finally, a report would be requested from the Registrar General. The court also mentioned that even if a lawyer is not available, they would explore the possibility of providing legal aid to the client. The CJI stressed the importance of ensuring that people are not left without representation.
The CJI further noted the need for a balance and a solution, expressing a desire to avoid turning their court into a Section 482 court, indicating a preference for a more balanced approach.
It’s worth noting that the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) had previously expressed serious concerns about the attacks on lawyers in Manipur who were representing the petitioner, Professor Kham Khan Suan Hausing. The SCBA condemned attempts to intimidate lawyers and interfere with the administration of justice, standing in solidarity with the lawyer whose home was attacked by a mob.
The matter is scheduled for further consideration on October 6, 2023.