Are Delhi lawyers jeopardising justice?

The Lawyers Association's refusal to defend the men accused of the Delhi gang rape might be one step too far.

The recent shocking case of the rape and murder of a young medical student in India has sparked widespread debate about the country’s treatment of women. But it also raises questions over the ethics of their legal code: Recent reports have revealed that the 2500 members of the Lawyers Association in the district of Saket have actively refused to represent the six men accused of the crime in light of the public outcry it has caused worldwide.

Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that passions are inflamed to the degree that protestors have called for the death penalty. But what are the repercussions this legal protest might have for justice in India?

In the UK, barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Board, which sets out that:

 A barrister who supplies advocacy services must not withhold those services on the ground that the nature of the case is objectionable to him or to any section of the public.

The regulations go on to state that a barrister must comply with the "Cab-rank rule," which means that they must accept any instructions from a field in which they profess to practice. India’s regulations are, interestingly, not too dissimilar. The Bar Council of India’s (BCI) states that an advocate "is bound to accept any brief".

This rule is qualified by an addition that says that “special circumstances may justify his refusal to accept a particular brief”. But what constitutes special enough circumstances to jeopardise justice? The right to a fair trial falls under Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; if it’s deemed important enough to feature there then its merit can’t be just be dismissed.

AFP reported  that one member of the Saket District Bar Council, Sanjay Kumar, spoke on behalf of the lawyers:

"We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend them. It would be immoral to defend the case".

He goes on to say that the advocates have taken the decision to "stay away" from the case in order to guarantee "speedy justice". This seems outrageous: justice should be just. It should be allowed to take its course naturally, without intervening factors that might artificially achieve it.

One lawyer who has come forward to represent two of the accused, Manohar Lal Sharma, has been insistent that his clients should have access to a fair trial. Sadly this lawyer is acting with a different set of warped motivations. He declared that "I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady", placing the blame for her death “wholly” on the victim. Sharma not only personifies the serious issues India has with its perception of women, but also displays a clear misunderstanding amongst its lawyers.

Advocates involved in this case have openly passed judgement on the accused: the Saket District Lawyers’ Association made an assumption of guilt, while Manohar Lal Sharma deemed the men innocent, and is therefore willing to defend them. What is unfortunately forgotten amongst all this is that it isn’t a lawyer’s job to make judgement - that is up to the judge and jury.

If recent reports that the accused are being tortured in order to force a guilty plea are true, then a fair trial is even more imperative for the sake of justice. This in no way suggests that the accused should be emancipated without trial, or that they have not likely done wrong, but it is important to remember that the stance should be ‘innocent until proven guilty’. How can justice be served and guilty men adequately punished if a fair trial has not ensued?

Protesters demonstrating against rape in Delhi. Photograph: Getty Images
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What does it mean for a leader when their entire country’s music culture rejects them?

The lack of good-quality artists performing at Donald Trump’s inauguration shows how weak his connection is with the country he’s about to govern.

Donald Trump’s inauguration planning has been bumpy. After numerous rejections, X Factor winner Rebecca Ferguson offered to sing, providing she could perform the protest song about lynching, “Strange Fruit”. In the last few days, a Bruce Springsteen Tribute Act has dropped out of the line-up. I hear it’s touch-and-go with the marching band.

The list of singers who have rejected the “opportunity” to play at Trump’s inauguration is extensive. Elton John, Charlotte Church, Céline Dion, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Kiss – so far, but the list continues to rack up. Those who have agreed are hardly household names: the Talladega College marching band, 3 Doors Down, Jackie Evancho (???), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and someone called “DJ Ravidrums”. For context, Barack Obama had Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin.

From a musical perspective, Trump is screwed. While Obama was the subject matter of anthems (“My President” by Young Jeezy/ “Changes” by Common/ “Black President” by Nas), Trump is like an over-keen uni student attempting to organise a club night four days into Freshers’ Week. He’s already printed the goddamn posters, and keeps asking you whether you’ve bought your ticket to “Leeds’ FRE$HEST t e c h n o night – Artists TBC.”

To be fair to Trump, he has inspired some good music: YG’s “FDT” (that’s “Fuck Donald Trump” for all you non-YG fans out there) is a real hit.

Of course, the President-Elect is not the first political figure to have anti-establishment art created about him. Far from it. Punk centred around anti-authoritarianism: fuck Thatcher, fuck the Queen, et al. Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, and Dead Kennedys all created anti-presidential songs during the Seventies and Eighties with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in their crosshairs.

There will always be a counter-cultural movement dissenting from the mainstream, raging against the machine – but what happens when it’s not counter-cultural, but just er, all culture? When even the mediocre Christian rock bands won’t play at your inauguration?

Trump does not worry about the backlash against him, but he should. Good music is born out of communities, which speaks to experiences. From lines like “When a n***a tryna board the plane / And they ask you, ‘What’s your name again?’ / ‘Cause they thinking, ‘Yeah, you’re all the same’” or “America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey,” Trump could do with paying attention. Indeed, W.E.B. Du Bois writes in The Souls of Black Folk, “There is no true American Music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave.” Music has always been a political tool, and we should not underestimate its rhetorical power.

This is why Obama’s musical reach was so important. His appreciation of contemporary music spoke to a political awareness of American culture, one that he wanted to engage with and listen to. The recent Ta-Nehisi Coates piece My President was Black opens with the writer’s first-hand experiences of this – from Obama inviting musicians like Jay Z and Chance the Rapper to the White House, to holding music events.

“The Obamas are fervent and eclectic music fans,” Coates writes. “In the past eight years, they have hosted performances at the White House by everyone from Mavis Staples to Bob Dylan to Tony Bennett to the Blind Boys of Alabama.”

Heck, Obama even released two Spotify playlists.

The implications of Obama’s enthusiasm showed an affinity to the people he represented, an awareness of his times, and built a responsive community: one of artists, rappers and singers who want to celebrate in his existence. Obama’s love of music was a sign of an appreciation of the cultures that were producing it. Like a call and response, Obama spoke to the people, and the people called back.

Politics and music will always be interlinked. This is why people were angry over Kanye’s friendship with Trump – the “abomination of Obama’s nation” ignoring his fans, his community, to associate with a man with such a flagrant disregard for black voters. This is in part why we mourn dead musicians. This is why we sing at rallies and marches. The two are inextricably linked, and it is not wise to underestimate the power of the form.

Trump will, inevitably, brush away the foreboding cultural signifier of a musical community rejecting him like a defensive child who doesn’t care. America is divided and it feels like we’re on the brink of something terrifying. Ignoring the masses of people and their voices will be a big mistake. Are you listening, Mr President?