New Delhi, Feb 25(PTI) Criminal matters cannot bedecided in the absence of the defence lawyer as it would causeprejudice to convicts/accused and is violative of thefundamental right to liberty, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The apex court said if no lawyer is available to assistthe accused, then the court concerned should appoint anamicus curiae(court officer) to assist it in the case.
A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan SudhaMishra passed the ruling while upholding the appeal filed byMd Sukur Ali challenging a judgement of the Guwhati High Courtwhich dismissed his criminal appeal as his counsel was notpresent when the matter came up for hearing.
"We are of the opinion that even assuming that thecounsel for the accused does not appear because of thecounsel''s negligence or deliberately, even then the courtshould not decide a criminal case against the accused in theabsence of his counsel since an accused in a criminal caseshould not suffer for the fault of his counsel.
"In such a situation the court should appoint anothercounsel as amicus curiae to defend the accused. This isbecause liberty of a person is the most important feature ofour Constitution. Article 21 which guarantees protection oflife and personal liberty is the most important fundamentalright of the fundamental rights guaranteed by theConstitution,"the bench said.
The apex court said any civilised society ought tooffer legal assistance to a convict/accused as even inearlier days hardened criminals were given the benefit ofdefence lawyers irrespective of the gravity of the crimecommitted by them.