Top lawyers Anand, Khan debarred for bribing witness (Second Lead)August 21st, 2008 - 8:07 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS) Finding them guilty of attempting to bribe a key witness in the high-profile BMW hit-and-run case, Delhi High Court Thursday convicted senior advocates R.K. Anand and I.U. Khan for obstructing administration of justice and debarred them from practising for four months. The division bench of Justices Manmohan Sarin and Madan B. Lokur also imposed a fine of Rs.2,000 each on Anand, the defence lawyer, and Khan, the special public prosecutor, after establishing authenticity of a sting operation conducted by private news channel NDTV.
”They are senior advocates and did not tender either conditional or unconditional apology for their conduct in the case,” the bench said in its 112-page verdict.
“On the basis of the material before us, we find that Anand was a key player in interfering or at least tending to interfere in the due course of a judicial proceeding and obstructing the administration of justice in any other manner. We are also left with no doubt in our mind that the unshakeable truth is that Anand is guilty of criminal contempt of court,” the bench said.
Criticising lawyer-turned-politician Anand for his “irresponsible” behaviour, the bench said: “Anand and Khan are seasoned lawyers of this court with decades of practice behind them. Anand has held prestigious elective positions in the legal fraternity and he has also been a member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha.
“Khan is known for his legal acumen and forensic skills and that is perhaps the reason why he was appointed as special public prosecutor in the BMW case. That he would betray the trust that the prosecution reposed in him, in the manner that he did, was perhaps beyond the realm of contemplation of the prosecuting agency,” the bench said.
“We are not dealing with a young lawyer who, driven by ambition and desire to make his career and in his over zealousness, transgresses the limits by crossing the ‘Laxman Rekha’. Both are seasoned lawyers and such conduct was not expected of them,” it said.
Recommending that Anand and Khan be stripped of the designation of senior advocate, Justices Sarin and Lokur referred the matter to a special bench. Arvind Nigam, who was appointed amicus curaie in the case, has been recommended for the post of senior advocate.
The sting operation, conducted last year, showed the advocates asking key witness Sunil Kulkarni to change his testimony, in exchange for a large sum, to favour Sanjeev Nanda, accused of mowing down six people on the Lodhi Road in central Delhi in the early hours of Jan 10, 1999.
The expose, according to NDTV, had been conducted by Kulkarni himself, using a hidden camera. Though he later baulked at the tapes being aired, the channel went ahead with the telecast in “public interest”.
Sanjeev Nanda, the grandson of Admiral (retired) S.M. Nanda and son of arms dealer Suresh Nanda, reportedly fled the scene of the accident though the police later found bloodstains on the car.
He got bail after nine months in jail when the only survivor changed his story and said a truck and not a BMW car had caused the accident.
The court ruling to debar the two veteran lawyers provoked a debate among the legal fraternity.
“I cannot comment of the decision given by the high court. It is not the jurisdiction of the high court to debar or cancel the licence of a lawyer. Only the Bar Council of India can take a decision in the matter,” Delhi Bar Council chairman K.K. Menon told IANS.
“The matter (the lawyers trying to bribe the key witness) is pending before the Bar Council and it will give a decision in the next hearing,” he added.
Senior lawyer Kamini Jaiswal agreed that the high court did not have the power to debar the lawyers, but she called for stringent punishment for those engaging in malpractices.
“A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court has given the power to debar or cancel the licence of a lawyer to the Bar Council of India. But what is peculiar is that so much time has passed but the Bar has not taken any decision in this regard.
“Moreover, the punishment of debarring the lawyers from practice for four months and a fine of Rs.2,000 is highly inadequate. The reputation of the lawyers has taken a beating after the expose and stringent punishment is called for the guilty,” Jaiswal said.
Meanwhile, lawyers in all four lower courts in the capital decided to go on a strike Friday in support of Anand and Khan.