L-G Baijal vetoes Cabinet's rejection of Delhi Police's lawyers in riots cases

New Delhi: The dispute over the choice of prosecutors for the north-east Delhi riots cases has now reached the President's office after Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal on Thursday overturned the Delhi

Cabinet's decision to reject the panel of six lawyers proposed by the Delhi Police to prosecute these cases in the High Court and Supreme Court.

The dispute over who would be representing the Delhi Police in these riots cases has been long raging in courts here, with neither the Delhi government counsel nor those chosen and approved by the L-G relinquishing claim over their authority.

Two days after the Delhi government questioned the Delhi Police's ability to conduct a fair probe in light of multiple court orders and rejected their choice of lawyers, L-G Baijal invoked powers under Article 239AA(4) of the Constitution, referring the dispute to the office of the President of India. The Constitution bestows these powers to the L-G, for him to use in case of a "difference of opinion" with Ministers.

A statement from the Chief Minister's Office here said, "The L-G invoked special powers granted to him under the Constitution. The Delhi government will now have to implement the order at any cost as it is mandated by the Constitution." The L-G's office, however, did not react to the statement.

Interestingly, the Delhi government had held that the Delhi Police should not be allowed to choose its lawyers to prosecute the riots cases, especially given serious questions raised on the fairness of its investigations in many of the cases.

Now, given that the L-G's office had vetoed the Cabinet's decision, a statement issued by the Delhi government said that the Home Department had been asked to approve the panel of lawyers selected by the Delhi Police. Acknowledging the binding nature of the powers invoked by the L-G, the statement said, "At the same time, under the authority obtained from this article, the Delhi government has issued an interim order to approve the panel of Delhi Police."

Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra has been involved in multiple disputes with the panel of lawyers approved by the L-G, which included Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta and ASG Aman Lekhi among others, in court about the legality of letting the investigative agency choose the prosecuting authority.

Interestingly, the Cabinet had arrived at the same conclusion in Tuesday's meeting, saying that "the investigating agency should not be allowed to decide the lawyers". Moreover, at this meeting, the Cabinet had also demanded an independent probe into the riots that killed over 53 people and injured many others. A statement from the government at the time said, "Investigation should not interfere with the rest of the judicial process."

After the Delhi Cabinet had rejected the panel, the Home Department was directed to form a panel of the country's best lawyers to prosecute the riots cases. Officials at the time had said that Mehra was likely to head this panel of prosecutors.

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