SC sets aside Punjab and Haryana HC order dismissing man's plea on grounds of lawyer's absence

The apex court said that the high court ought to have appointed an amicus curiae in the absence of counsel, adding that 'the liberty of a citizen cannot be taken away in this manner'.

Press Trust of India November 22, 2020 19:10:25 IST
SC sets aside Punjab and Haryana HC order dismissing man's plea on grounds of lawyer's absence

File image of the Supreme Court of India. PTI

New Delhi: The liberty of a citizen cannot be taken away in this manner, the Supreme Court has said while setting aside the Punjab and Haryana High Court order which had dismissed a plea filed by a man on the grounds that his lawyer had remained absent on four occasions during the hearing.

The apex court observed that the high court was manifestly in error in rejecting the revision in default and it ought to have appointed another lawyer as amicus curiae to assist it in the matter which pertained to conviction under the Arms Act.

"The high court, in our view, was manifestly in error in rejecting the revision in default, on the ground that the appellant's advocate had remained absent on the previous four occasions," a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said.

"Since the revision before the high court arose out of an order of the conviction under the Arms Act, the high court ought to have appointed an amicus curiae in the absence of counsel, who has been engaged by the legal services authority, Rohtak. The liberty of a citizen cannot be taken away in this manner," the bench, also comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, said in its 16 November order.

The top court allowed the appeal filed by the man and set aside the 11 February and 16 July orders of the high court.

On 11 February, the high court had dismissed the plea filed by the man challenging his conviction saying: "Perusal of file shows that this revision has been taken on board six times, including today. On four occasions, none came forward to represent the petitioner in the span of approximately one year and four months. Therefore, it can safely be inferred that the petitioner or his counsel is no more interested in pursuing this revision. Dismissed for want of prosecution."

Later, on July 16, the high court had dismissed the application for restoration of plea saying that no grounds for restoration was established.
The man, through his counsel MK Ghosh, had approached the apex court against the high court order.

He was convicted for the offence punishable under the Arms Act by a magisterial court in January 2015 and was sentenced to three-year imprisonment.  A sessions court had upheld his conviction in July 2017 after which he had moved the high court. During the pendency of his plea before the high court, he was granted bail in April 2018.

The apex court, while setting aside the high court orders, restored his revision.

Since during the pendency of the special leave petition, the appellant was admitted to bail by this court and the appellant was on bail during the pendency of the revision before the high court, the order enlarging the appellant on bail shall continue to remain in operation pending the disposal of the revision by the high court. The appellant shall cooperate in the disposal of the revision, the bench said.

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