Updated: July 29, 2020 12:02:55 am
In a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi government Tuesday rejected the panel of lawyers the Delhi Police had chosen to argue the Northeast Delhi riots cases in the High Court and Supreme Court, saying it would imperil a free and fair trial.
“There have been allegations that the investigations of Delhi Police in these cases are biased and not impartial. The judiciary has also made adverse remarks against Delhi Police investigations on several occasions. Therefore, in order to ensure that all facts are presented before the Hon’ble judges, it is extremely critical that the government advocates are independent of the Police,” the Cabinet observed.
The Delhi Police had sent a proposal to the Delhi government to appoint six senior lawyers, including Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, as Special Public Prosecutors in the HC and SC in 85 cases related to riots and anti-CAA protests.
The Cabinet decision sets the stage for Lt Governor Anil Baijal to invoke Article 239AA(4), a constitutional provision that authorises him to refer any matter over which there are “differences of opinion” with the elected government to the President of India. The L-G had earlier suggested to the government to approve the panel chosen by the police.
In a statement after the Cabinet, the Delhi government also targeted the L-G for his “repeated interferences” in the matter. The L-G had previously invoked Article 239AA(4) after a similar dispute arose over the appointment of public prosecutors to argue the riots cases in the lower courts.
“Under the Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi has special powers to intervene and overturn any decision of the elected government of Delhi. But the Supreme Court has said that the Lieutenant Governor can exercise this right only in the rarest of rare cases. Otherwise, it is against the spirit of democracy. Appointment of a panel of lawyers does not fall into any rare category and it is a normal procedure. For this reason, the Delhi government is fully empowered to appoint lawyers,” the statement said.
The Cabinet directed the Delhi Home Department to form a panel of “best possible lawyers” in the country to represent these cases in the HC and SC. The L-G has already rejected the government’s proposal that a team under its standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra be engaged to argue the cases.
The government statement also said that the Cabinet took note of questions raised by several courts against “bias” in Delhi Police’s action on riot cases. It observed that investigation and prosecution should be independent of each other, describing it as a “fundamental principle of the criminal justice system in India and around the world”.
“During the meeting, the Cabinet noted that Justice Suresh Kumar of the Delhi HC has earlier observed that the Delhi Police is taking the entire judicial system on a ride on the Delhi riot cases. The Cabinet has also noted that various session courts and media have questioned the role of the Delhi Police during the riot and its investigation. The Delhi Cabinet has observed that in such a situation, the panel of lawyers of the Delhi Police would not be able to ensure justice in these cases,” the government statement said.
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