Should our lawyers take a stand against representing rapists they know to be guilty?
In the recent incident of gang rape of a housewife in Sylhet MC College hostel, no lawyer agreed to stand by the miscreants accused of the crime. You won’t get examples of this kind in the country in the recent past.
As far as I can recall, lawyers had taken a similar stand in the case of the highly criticized and notorious seven-murder incident of Narayanganj several years back.
It is said that a person is to be considered innocent until he’s proven guilty of a crime in a court of law and everybody has the right to legal support, no matter if he is a complainant or defendant. So, it is a custom that the state comes forward to appoint a lawyer to defend the accused if he is unable to do so.
It is also a common scenario that lawyers generously come forward to extend their legal support both to the complainant and defendant. You wouldn’t find lawyers denying legal support to defendants in any of the highly criticized incidents of the recent past, such as the Rifat murder, the casino scams, the Papia scandal, the coronavirus test certificate forgeries by Regent-GKG, or the killing of Major (retd) Sinha.
So, what was special about this particular incident that lawyers felt that they had to make an exception? One of the major elements in the seven-murder killing case of Narayanganj was that the key victim was a lawyer, who became the target of miscreants simply because he was committed to discharging his professional responsibilities sincerely.
What’s been the driving force behind lawyers’ stand in the MC College incident? Was that because the incident had been so nasty that it prompted lawyers to consider standing by its committers highly immoral?
One should not forget that the country had witnessed even more notorious incidents in past. Besides, it’s also possible that all of the guys accused of the incident were not guilty of the crime or, at least, to the same extent.
So, what’s the point then? Was it because the accused miscreants not only lost the patronage of influential quarters, but also didn’t have enough financial support to challenge the complaints against them in a court of law?
I want to believe that the first consideration, I mean the moral issue, has come to play in the lawyers’ decision. The question remains: Why did the same consideration not work in other criminal incidents noted above?
Let’s look at this more broadly. Isn’t it inevitable for an accused to disclose the total story to his lawyer when he seeks legal support? What should be the course of action for a lawyer when he gets to know that the client seeking his support was really guilty of the offence? What are the directives of law here? Even if the law permits, do the ethics approve supporting a “certain” criminal?
If it’s the ethical consideration that prompted lawyers in Sylhet (I want to believe so) in deciding their stand, then history would commemorate it as a landmark in the legal arena of the country. Of course, allegation doesn’t necessarily mean guilt.
Sometimes an individual might even face false allegations. In other instances, charges may be framed against an individual for committing a more serious crime than he actually did. In such instances, it comes down to not only the professional responsibility of a lawyer to support the defendant, but to his moral obligation, too.
However, when the lawyer has good reason to believe that the client seeking his support is really guilty of the crime and decides not to support him like in the Sylhet incident, you can certainly expect that the barometer of the morale of professional criminals would come down in the country.
It is worth mentioning that professional miscreants in this country are often rich in wealth and have strong influence in the socio-political arena or they are backed by such influential quarters. Facing court is not a big challenge for them at all.
They always like to feel confident that they would be able to manage bail from the court, either using their own influence or being supported by their influential patrons. It is only the lawyers who can take a stand of not moving for real/professional miscreants and break down their spines.
May we expect, then, that the lawyer community in the country would come forward collectively with such a historic decision to contain the continued up-trend in such crimes?
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is a Professor of Pharmacy at Jahangirnagar University.