New Delhi: Criminal matters cannot be
decided in the absence of the defence lawyer as it would cause
prejudice to convicts/accused and is violative of the
fundamental right to liberty, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The apex court said if no lawyer is available to assist
the accused, then the court concerned should appoint an
amicus curiae(court officer) to assist it in the case.
A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha
Mishra passed the ruling while upholding the appeal filed by
Md Sukur Ali challenging a judgement of the Guwhati High Court
which dismissed his criminal appeal as his counsel was not
present when the matter came up for hearing.
"We are of the opinion that even assuming that the
counsel for the accused does not appear because of the
counsel`s negligence or deliberately, even then the court
should not decide a criminal case against the accused in the
absence of his counsel since an accused in a criminal case
should not suffer for the fault of his counsel.
"In such a situation the court should appoint another
counsel as amicus curiae to defend the accused. This is
because liberty of a person is the most important feature of
our Constitution. Article 21 which guarantees protection of
life and personal liberty is the most important fundamental
right of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the
Constitution," the bench said.
The apex court said any civilised society ought to
offer legal assistance to a convict/accused as even in
earlier days hardened criminals were given the benefit of
defence lawyers irrespective of the gravity of the crime
committed by them.