Cabinet rejects Delhi Police's lawyers' panel for riots cases

New Delhi: The Delhi government in a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday rejected the panel of lawyers proposed by the Delhi Police in north-east riot cases. The Cabinet observed since the courts have already raised questions on the fairness of investigations done by the Delhi Police, in such a situation "a free and fair trial of these cases would not be possible by a panel of lawyers selected by the Delhi Police itself."

The Cabinet has further directed the Home Department, headed by Satyendar Jain, to form an impartial panel

of the best lawyers in the country so that the north-east Delhi riots related cases can be prosecuted fairly.

A senior official in the Home Department said, "Rahul Mehra will likely head the new panel. He is capable of getting justice in the north-east riots cases." Mehra is the Delhi government's standing counsel (criminal) and has been at odds with multiple lawyers appointed by the L-G during several riots-related hearings in both lower courts and the Delhi High Court.

Mehra has often argued that the prosecution cannot be appointed by the Centre when the investigative agency (Delhi Police in this case) is also administered by the Centre and this would amount to the blurring of lines between the prosecution and probe authorities.

One Cabinet Minister, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "We have rejected the panel of lawyers suggested by the Delhi Police today. Since the L-G had written to the Delhi Chief Minister officially, we will now inform the L-G."

L-G Anil Baijal had given the Delhi government a week's time to decide on the Delhi Police's proposal with respect to the appointment of six lawyers, which included Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, ASG Aman Lekhi, Standing Counsel Amit Mahajan and Advocate Rajat Nair.

The Cabinet on Tuesday rejected the L-G's suggestion to approve the Delhi Police's panel of lawyers. Millennium Post had first reported on May 2 that the police in the city will be assigning prosecution services for the Delhi riots cases to the panel of lawyers selected by it.

It was also noted in the Cabinet meeting that Justice Suresh Kumar Kait of the Delhi High Court had observed that the Delhi Police is taking "the entire judicial system on a ride on the Delhi riot cases". The Cabinet observed that in such a situation, the panel of lawyers suggested by the Delhi Police would not be able to ensure justice in these cases and the Delhi government's panel of lawyers should represent these cases.

"The Cabinet of the Delhi Government has noted that the investigating agency should not be allowed to decide the lawyers," the Delhi government said in a statement. Further, the Cabinet has demanded an independent investigation into the riots that "should not interfere with the rest of the judicial process." The Cabinet also noted that the L-G had written a letter to the Chief Minister, disagreeing with the panel of lawyers already set up by the Delhi government.

"Section 24 of the CrPC also mentions that the Delhi government has the right to appoint public prosecutors. Under the Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi has special powers to intervene and overturn any decision of the elected government of Delhi. But the Supreme Court has said that the Lieutenant Governor can exercise this right only in the rarest of rare cases. Otherwise, it is against the spirit of democracy. The appointment of a panel of lawyers does not fall into any rare category and it is a normal procedure. For this reason, the Delhi government is fully empowered to appoint lawyers," the Delhi government said in its statement.

Meanwhile, Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta alleged that the Delhi government was trying to protect members of the AAP, who were purportedly involved in the riots. Gupta said, "The Delhi government has once again proved that it can go to any extent to save the AAP councillor, MLA and karyakartas accused in the Delhi riots."

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