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Uday Umesh Lalit replaces NV Ramana as 49th CJI, take charge on August 27

Uday Umesh Lalit replaces NV Ramana as 49th Chief Justice of India and set to take charge on August 27, 2022. NV Ramana was made CJI by replacing SA Bobde on 24th April 2021.

On August 4, NV Ramana itself suggested Uday Umesh Lalit’s name as next CJI.

The Past

Prior to his promotion in August 2014, Lalit had a thriving law practice. He has represented several high profile clients in the Supreme Court such as former Indian Army Chief VK Singh, former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and actor Salman Khan.

However, the cases where he defended Amit Shah against charges that he planned the alleged extrajudicial killings of gangsters Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati in 2005–2006 when he was the Home Minister of Gujarat attracted the most attention. In 2010, Shah was arrested and briefly sent to jail in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case.

The lawyers said it was unfair to criticize Lalit for choosing to represent Shah or any other client. “Lawyers should not be judged on the basis of the clients they represent,” said senior advocate and former Patna High Court judge Anjana Prakash. “They represent clients on the facts of the case and do not personally defend them.”

As a lawyer, “you have to take all the notices that come your way,” she added.

This is often called the “cab rank rule” – just as a cab driver does not turn away a passenger, a lawyer must deal with all the cases that come his way.

In India, this is enshrined in the Bar of India Rules governing the conduct of an advocate. A lawyer is “required to accept any communication” that comes to him, he sets the rules, as long as the fee is consistent with his “standing at the bar and the nature of the case” and there are no “special circumstances” such as a conflict of interest, lack of expertise in a given subject and so on.

The basic principle is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and lawyers should not assume otherwise. “Ultimately, it is for the judge to decide and for the government or the prosecution to prove the case against the citizens,” said senior advocate and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Dushyant Dave.

While some commentators have criticized the cab listing rule on the grounds that it allows lawyers to escape moral responsibility, many believe the rule is necessary to ensure that no one is denied legal representation.

For example, a resolution issued by the Coimbatore Bar Association asking its members not to defend police officers involved in clashes with lawyers was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2010. Citing the rules of the Bar Council of India, the court said this violated the accused’s right to legal representation. The court noted that similar orders were often made in cases involving alleged terrorists or rape accused, but warned that such orders were illegal.

Even lawyers who are not subject to the taxi rank rule say it is unfair to judge Lalita based on his clients. Senior advocate Sanjoy Ghose said he was fundamentally opposed to the taxi inclusion rule as he believed it was “a disservice to represent a client just because you can’t say no”. However, he added that “it was stupid and childish to assert to Mr Lalit the fact that he was representing the current Home Minister”.

Ghose added, “A successful lawyer will represent all types of clients.”

Even senior advocate and human rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan, while clarifying that he would not represent Amit Shah himself, said, “You cannot blame a criminal lawyer for representing someone even if others believe that the person was guilty of serious crimes”.

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