ML Sharma (image via BBC)

Manohar Lal Sharma and Ajai Pratap Singh, two advocates who represented the accused in the 2012-Delhi Gang rape and murder trial, faced the public ire for their comments made in the controversial BBC documentary on the unfortunate incident. These remarks which were termed as “inhumane” and “unjustifiable”, also prompted the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA) to seek action against the two defence lawyers. The SCWLA filed a Writ Petition before the Supreme Court being Writ Petition (Civil) No. 138 of 2015.

The petition sought restriction on the entry of the two advocates on the apex court premises, alleging that their remarks in the BBC documentary were inhumane, scandalous, unjustifiable, biased, outrageous, ill-minded, and are a direct affront to and in violation of the dignity of women, especially those practising in the SC. [Daily Mail] The Association has contended violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantee right to equality including gender equality, and right to live with dignity. Besides seeking the debarment of the two lawyers, the Association has also sought action against them by the Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment Committee of the Supreme Court and a public apology from both the lawyers. 

Along with Sharma, the petition filed through Mahalakshmi Pavani (Advocate-on-record), has the chairperson of gender sensitisation committee and registrar of the Supreme Court as parties to it.

Case Number Writ Petition (Civil) No. 138 of 2015
Petitioner Supreme Court Women Lawyer Association
  1. Manohar Lal Sharma, Advocate
  2. A.P. Singh, Advocate
  3. Chairperson, Gender Sensitization Committee,Supreme Court of India,
  4. Registrar, Supreme Court of India
  1. “…to pass an appropriate order restricting the entry of [ML Sharma and AP Singh] within the premises of the Supreme Court of India;”
  2. “issue an appropriate writ, order or direction in the nature of Mandamus directing the GSSH Committee to and take action against [ML Sharma and AP Singh], and to sensitize him towards the dignity and rights of women under Regulation 7(2) of the Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013;”
  3. “Direct [ML Sharma and AP Singh] to issue public apology…”
  4. “Direct [ML Sharma and AP Singh] to retract the said statements…”
  5. “Direct [ML Sharma and AP Singh] to refrain in future from issuing any such public statement which is derogatory to women and is a direct breach of their dignity”

Read the complete Petition (courtesy Bar and Bench)

20 March 2015

The matter was mentioned before the bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu who ordered to list the matter before an appropriate bench on 23 March 2015.

23 March 2015

The matter came to be listed before a bench comprising of Justice Gopala Gowda and Justice C. Nagappan. Listed as item 70, matter saw its turn around lunch time in jam-packed courtroom. Justice Gowda chose to adjourn the matter and ordered the matter to be listed the next day as first item.

Supreme Court Bar Association Resolution

Meanwhile the Executive Committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), after representation of its member lawyers on 18 March 2015, met to discuss the conduct of Sharma who is also a ‘Life Member’ of the SCBA. On 23 March 2013 SCBA issued a circular stating:

The President, after considering the Complaint informed the Executive Committee that appropriate action in accordance with the Rules is required to be taken against Mr. Manohar Lal Sharma. Thereupon, the Executive Committee deliberated the issue and unanimously resolved to refer the matter to a Committee of six Senior Executive Members … to examine the complaint, conduct the enquiry and take appropriate action in accordance with Rules.

24 March 2015

The matter was called at 10.30 am when the main attraction was the pronouncement of judgment by Justice Nariman in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India & Ors. in Court room no. 3. Senior Advocate Vibha Dutt Makhija, started her arguments on behalf of the SCWLA with other lawyers supporting the petition, sitting by her side.

Makhija submitted that the Supreme Court has to lead from the front and show zero tolerance for such views. “We need an environment where we are fearless,” she said and added that the two advocates need to be sensitised. SCBA President – Dushyant Dave informed the court of the above SCBA resolution against ML Sharma and submitted that the “SCBA has taken a unanimous decision to take action against Sharma“. He also submitted that the SCBA supported the submission of the Petitioner. [Business Standard]

Court passed the order:

Heard Ms. Vibha Datta Makhija, learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner and Mr. Dushyant Dave, learned senior counsel for Respondent No. 5. Mr. Dave supports the submission made by Ms. Makhija.
We have also perused the pleadings placed on record as also the documents and the grounds urged in this petition. We find that the matter requires consideration as certain important legal contentions are raised in the instant petition.
Hence, issue notice, returnable within two weeks.

20 April 2015

ML Sharma appeared in person and accepted the notice issued to him. Advocate CD Singh accepted notice on behalf of Chairperson, Gender Sensitization Committee and Registrar, Supreme Court of India. AP Singh is yet to be served. ML Sharma and other served respondents were given two weeks time to file their counter affidavit.

Next Date of hearing: 21 July 2015