x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Finding a defence for the indefensible

The court case against the man accused of being involved in the Mumbai attacks stalls after lawyers refuse to defend him in court.

KBN Lam, 63, a Mumbai-based lawyer, has expressed interest in representing Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Mumbai attacker.
KBN Lam, 63, a Mumbai-based lawyer, has expressed interest in representing Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Mumbai attacker.

MUMBAI // The court case against the man accused of being involved in the Mumbai attacks has stalled after lawyers in the country are refusing to defend him in court. Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, was the only suspect in the attacks who was captured by police after the rampage by 10 gunmen in Mumbai on Nov 26, which killed about 170 people. Last week, the Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrate Court's Bar Association, which includes about 1,000 lawyers, passed a unanimous resolution that none of it members would represent Mr Kasab. Shortly after, lawyers from another legal association, Legal Aid Panel, agreed to do the same. Lawyers announced the decision despite it defying the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a defence lawyer. But Rohini Wagh, the president of the Bar Association, said the horror of the terrorist strike on Mumbai should mean that Mr Kasab should not be eligible for fundamental legal rights. "Before considering this terrorist and his rights, let's consider the rights of our citizens," she said. "This terror attack was not only on our country but on humanity as well. Let's not forget his deeds - this terrorist came from another country, fully trained, to kill our people." A few independent lawyers who showed interest in taking on Mr Kasab's case have been browbeaten into withdrawing their applications. On Tuesday, a swarming crowd of 200 activists from the Shiv Sena, a right-wing political party, demonstrated outside the residence of Ashok Sarogi, a well-known criminal lawyer, pelting stones and hurling insults at the lawyer. The crowd, carrying orange flags, forced him to issue a written statement that he will not be Mr Kasab's defence counsel. Mahesh Deshmukh, a lawyer based in the town of Amravati, was labelled a traitor by Shiv Sena activists, who ransacked his office after he agreed to take on Mr Kasab's case. Mr Kasab is the Mumbai police's main source of intelligence about the terrorist attack, furnishing details about how he was trained in camps in Pakistan operated by the Lashkar-i-Taiba, a banned militant outfit. He faces 12 charges, but without a defence lawyer, uncertainty looms over his trial. The issue has spawned a volatile debate across India about the rights of reviled criminals. In the past, some of India's best lawyers have represented clients that were widely detested by the public. In 1984, Ram Jethmalani, a Delhi-based lawyer, defended Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, the alleged assassins of Indira Gandhi, a former prime minister. Colin Gonsalves, a Supreme Court lawyer, chose to defend Mohammed Afzal Guru, who was convicted of conspiracy in the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Enraged right-wing political groups continue to demand that Guru be executed. But never before has the debate been so vehement. Arun Shourie, a member of the Indian Parliament, said: "The best [Indian] lawyers should not be made available to criminals, smugglers and terrorists. The ? legal support from the best of our advocates makes their case stronger." But KBN Lam, a 63-year-old Mumbai-based lawyer, disagrees. "People think it is immoral to represent Kasab," said Mr Lam, who once was a barrister at London's popular Lincoln's Inn. "But unless he is represented, there cannot be a case against him. Even those who want to send him to the gallows will not be able to do so if there's no defence lawyer." Mr Lam this week expressed interest in being Mr Kasab's counsel, undeterred by the attacks on other lawyers who came forward. His Mumbai office was ransacked yesterday. He said it is imperative to demonstrate to the international community that India, the world's largest democracy, can provide a fair trial to an accused man. Many who argue against giving Mr Kasab legal aid said the cases against Mr Kasab are open-and-shut, and no lawyer, no matter how competent, can save him. "The basic purpose of having a legal process in place and a trial is to bring about the truth," said Bharat Kumar Raut, an MP from Shiv Sena. "When everyone knows the truth, then that question of legal aid does not arise." Mr Lam said there were certain mitigating factors that need to be established in the case, for example, was Mr Kasab under pressure from someone and was he intimidated into committing the crime. "All of this can only be established in a court of law, and not by an investigating agency," he said. He said cousins had rebuked him for expressing interest in taking the case. He lives with his 97-year-old mother, and he worries he will be intimidated or have his property ransacked. "If I said I wasn't scared the same would happen to me, I'd be living in Cuckoo land," he said. "But you can't let fear stop you from doing the right thing." achopra@thenational.ae