Chennai lawyers, police give their versions to probe panel (Lead)

February 28th, 2009 - 8:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Feb 28 (IANS) Lawyers and police officials Saturday blamed each other for last week’s clashes in the premises of the Madras High Court while deposing before a commission appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the incidents.
While lawyers termed the baton charge on them by the police “as illegal draconian measures”, the city police commissioner listed 109 cases registered against the advocates, including violence, open support to the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and attacks on magistrates.

Retired apex court judge B.N. Srikrishna, who is conducting the investigation with the assistance of two Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials, requested the lawyers to return to work pending submission of his report to the Supreme Court.

However, the lawyers are sticking to their demand for the suspension of Director General of Police K.P. Jain for the attack.

Madras High Court Advocates’ Association (MHAA) president Paul Kanagaraj told reporters, “The judge requested us to return to work as cases have piled up, but we have reiterated our demand for immediate suspension of DGP K.P. Jain and Commissioner of Police K. Radhakrishnan.”

“We pointed out the illegal draconian measures launched by the police to brutally attack unarmed lawyers and judges,” S. Prabhakaran, former MHAA president, told reporters.

Kanagaraj and Prabhakaran were among 40 advocates who deposed before the commission.

A police press statement said, “The commission has been told that 109 cases have been registered since 2001 against lawyers for various offences under the Indian Penal Code. Some of them have been accused of assaulting magistrates, celebrating the birthday of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran and several acts punishable under law, including setting fire to a police station and government vehicle around the high court campus.”

Former Supreme Court judge S. Mohan told reporters on the sidelines of a function that the incidents at the Madras High Court were unfortunate.

“A probe is being conducted by my former colleague justice Srikrishna. I can only say that both sides have erred at this stage,” Mohan said.

Chief Secretary K.S. Sripathy, DGP Jain and Police Commissioner Radhakrishnan deposed before the commission and handed over their statements, the copies of which have already been sent to the state and central governments.

Justice Srikrishna will inspect the high court premises Sunday, the sources added.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi appealed to lawyers boycotting courts for over a month to return to work from Monday since his government had carried out all the orders of the Supreme Court.

“Following the Supreme Court’s orders, several senior police officials have been transferred out. The government has agreed to compensate all those who suffered damages and injuries during the unfortunate violence. Therefore, lawyers should return to work,” Karunanidhi said in a statement.

“In the event of this not happening, I would be forced to think that the violence was not an offshoot of the emotional outpouring in support of suffering Lankan Tamils but an attempt to destabilise a democratically elected government,” he added.

The lawyers are dissatisfied with the measures taken by the government and have demanded the immediate suspension and transfer of Jain and Radhakrishnan as a precondition to return to work.

The government had set apart Rs.2.5 million for the commission’s expenses and an equal sum to pay for the damages to vehicles and treating injured advocates earlier this week.

The trouble began Feb 18, when Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy was pelted with eggs by a group of advocates in front of a division bench of the Madras High Court.

The court ordered the police to take remedial measures and the lawyers were arrested.

A day later, violence broke out in the high court with lawyers protesting the arrest of their colleagues.

While police officials said they had to resort to baton charge to quell rioting, lawyers claimed that several of their colleagues suffered severe head injuries.

It is not known who ordered the baton charge.

Television pictures showed policemen and advocates flinging stones at each other and causing damages to parked vehicles in the vicinity.

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