Why are policemen scared of lawyers in India?

Justice Markandey Katju-


Recently some policemen in Delhi were said to have been physically assaulted in Tees Hazari, Karkardooma and Saket district Courts in Delhi, which instigated them to hold a demonstration of several hours before the headquarters of the Delhi Police Commissioner near the ITO building demanding protection from such assaults. Several were seen carrying posters reading ‘ Hum police hain, ghulam nahin ‘ (We are policemen, not slaves). Their agitation has been supported by police organizations all over India.

Justice Markandey Katju

Now it seems strange that policemen, who do not seem scared of any other section of society (except, perhaps, politicians) are scared of lawyers. Lawyers don’t carry lathis and guns, as many policemen do, then why are the latter scared of them ? Even when there is a police lathi charge on lawyers, it is usually consequential to a prior assault by lawyers on policemen, with fists or by stone pelting. Policemen are not wearing bangles, so if they are assaulted upon they are likely to retaliate, but usually they are not the ones who began the incident.

The reason why policemen are scared of lawyers is that lawyers have a weapon called ‘ istagaasha ‘ or criminal complaint, of which policemen are dreadfully afraid.

A criminal case in India can be started in one of two ways (1) by filing an FIR ( first information report ) in a police station under section 154 Cr.P.C. or (2) by filing an istagaasha or criminal complaint before the judicial magistrate, under section 200 Cr.P.C.

Now policemen are not scared of an FIR because that is submitted to others of their own fraternity, and members of one’s own fraternity tend to gang up with each other. So the matter is ‘manageable’.

But a criminal complaint before a judicial magistrate is an altogether different cup of tea. It is presented before a judge (a judicial magistrate), and lawyers and judges belong to the same legal fraternity. A magistrate’s sympathy is therefore likely to be more with the lawyers who appear daily before him in court rather than with policemen.

On receiving a complaint by lawyers of a police atrocity, whether true or concocted, the magistrate will issue summons to the police accused under section 204 Cr.P.C. and begin a criminal trial, which may end up by the accused policemen being sent to jail, and/or their career damaged or ruined. So, the moment a summons is issued against him by a magistrate, a policemen is like a fish out of water, flopping about hither and thither. That is the real reason why policemen are scared of lawyers.

Many lawyers have imaginative minds, which also scares government servants. Let me give an example.

When I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court ( 1971-91 ) there was a leading senior lawyer of Allahabad District Court ( let us call him AB ), who though having a huge practice never filed income tax returns, and never paid any income tax.

Once a young exuberant and upright Income Tax Officer was posted in Allahabad, who issued a notice to AB to appear before him. When AB appeared, the ITO said ” Mr AB, everyone knows you are a top lawyer in Allahabad District Court with a roaring practice. Yet you never file income tax returns and never pay any income tax “, and having said so, made a best judgment assessment and levied a huge demand on AB as tax and penalty. AB kept pleading that he was a poor lawyer with no practice, will be ruined by this huge demand as he had no assets, etc etc but to no avail.

A few days thereafter the ITO received a letter from a lawyer ( not AB ) stating that his client, a young woman, had been impregnated by the ITO under a false promise of marriage which he had not kept, and now his client has delivered his child, for which he must pay a huge amount of compensation, otherwise legal proceedings for rape etc will be commenced against him.

The ITO was bewildered and shocked, as he had never till then even had an affair with any woman, far less impregnating anyone. He went from lawyer to lawyer seeking advice, and ultimately someone told him to go to AB. He did, and fell at AB’s feet, apologizing profusely. Consequently, a compromise was reached. The ITO recalled his order imposing tax and penalty on AB, and the legal notice too was withdrawn.

No wonder government servants in India give lawyers a wide berth!


[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.]