Yesterday, during the hearing in the Ayodhya matter in the Supreme Court, Dr. Rajeev Dhawan, a senior advocate, had reportedly (see, here and here, for instance) torn documents handed over to him by the opposite side, leading the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India to pass some remarks. While, ultimately, it appears that the matter has attained a quietus in the court on the ground that the act was done pursuant to some remarks by the Hon'ble CJI, it provides us the context to discuss the topic of professional conduct.
The days of live reporting, over twitter or otherwise, has shown instances of unprofessional conduct by several counsels. It has become a fashion for many counsels to pass rude comments or interrupt frequently while the opposite side is arguing and pass "witty" comments intended to provoke the opposite lawyer who is arguing. Interrupting and passing remarks bordering on insult while the opposite lawyer arguing his case have become the new normal.
Unfortunately, such questionable acts are being done even by senior advocates, who are appear often in the media, charge immensely heavy fee, and are regarded by law students and practitioners as celebrities. As a consequence, such censurable conduct is mainstreamed.
Norms of decency and courtesy, even in normal professional interactions, is that when a person is talking, the others, even if they hold an opposite view, need to wait till that person completes his point, and then respond. Another well-accepted principle is that one should attack the point being made and not the person making the point.
It needs no reminding that the Bar Council of India Rules provides, among other things, the following:
"During the presentation of his case and also while acting before a court, an advocate should act in a dignified manner. He should at all times conduct himself with self-respect..."
"An advocate should refuse to act in an illegal or improper manner towards the opposing counsel or the opposing parties."
D.P.Chadha Vs. Triyugi Narain Mishra & others (2001) 2 SCC 221, the Supreme Court held: "Yet a counsel, in his zeal to earn success for a client, need not step over the well defined limits or propriety, repute and justness. Independence and fearlessness are not licences of liberty to do anything in the court and to earn success to a client whatever be the cost and whatever be the sacrifice of professional norms."
Judges should also fearlessly censure such conduct. When the arguing counsel is being interrupted frequently, courts should be stern in reprimanding such conduct. Instead, courts simply hear the interrupting counsel and seek a response from the arguing counsel on the point that is being made out by the interrupting counsel, thereby tacitly approving such conduct.
Law students and advocates should realise that while it is not wrong to make celebrities out of advocates, it is important to examine if such advocates act in a manner that is in consonance with professional and ethical standards.