‘Fighting Pro Bono’: Disha Ravi Lawyer Refutes ₹6-7 Lakh Fee Claim
“Representing Disha Ravi before Delhi HC on pro bono basis,” Senior Advocate Akhil Sibal confirms to The Quint.
Senior Advocate Akhil Sibal, who is representing 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi in the ‘toolkit case’, has confirmed to The Quint that he’s fighting the case before the Delhi High Court on a ‘pro bono basis’.
This comes in response to claims and allegations on Twitter that Ravi is paying Sibal close to ‘Rs 6-7 lakh’ for each appearance before the high court.
The controversy started with a tweet posted by journalist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on 19 February. In that tweet, Mitra claimed, “Disha Ravi hires Akhil Sibal – that’s between Rs 5 to 7 lakh per appearance. Do the math.”
'Not Charging Any Fee’
Responding to the conversations generated by this tweet, Sibal informed The Quint that:
“I accepted the brief for Disha pro bono and am not charging any fee. I believe the issues raised before the high court in her petition are important. The core issue is whether a detailed discussion by the media of information, which is part of the case file during investigation, and not part of public record – which is possibly leaked by the police – affects the fundamental rights of a citizen being investigated, including her right to privacy, reputation, fair trial, and the presumption of innocence.”
Many lawyers who have worked with Sibal either on this case or previous ones have categorically rejected the claims made by Mitra.
One such lawyer, Vrinda Bhandari, who is also representing Ravi, confirmed to The Quint that: “Sibal appeared for Disha on a pro-bono basis.”
While Abhik Chimni, who has worked with Sibal on many pro bono matters, including the JNU violence case, posted on Twitter that:
“Having worked on several cases pro bono with Akhil SibaI, can vouch for the fact that he is one of the most generous members of the Bar. It’s sad that we keep seeing attention seekers spread fake news.”
What is the Case About?
Sibal is representing Ravi in her petition before the court to restrain the police from leaking probe material to the media and to ensure responsible reporting on the case.
A Delhi High Court Bench headed by Justice Prathiba Singh is hearing the petition moved by Ravi.
The petition has asked the court to order the Delhi Police to not leak any investigation material relating to the case, including alleged contents of private chats and communications to any third party, including the media.
It also asks for action to be taken by the Centre and the News Broadcasters Association (NBSA) under relevant mechanisms against News18, India Today, Times Now and any other media house for publishing alleged private chats between Ravi and others, and for the channels to take down their existing stories that contain this material.
Finally, the petition also asks the high court to restrain all TV channels from disseminating any other alleged private chats and conversations of Ravi till the trial is concluded.
To justify these requests, Ravi’s lawyers have cited the Delhi High Court’s order slamming the Delhi Police for leaks of investigation material relating to Devangana Kalita, as well as specific guidelines on media coverage of the Centre and the NBSA.
The coverage by the media thus far is also alleged to have violated the Bombay High Court’s recent order on media trials, in the context of coverage of the death of Sushant Singh Rajput.
‘Ensure No Media Leaks’: HC to Delhi Police
The Delhi High Court on Friday, 19 February, had directed the Delhi Police to ensure they comply with their affidavit that there would be no leaks about their investigation into the ‘toolkit’ case, and ensure that any press briefings were in accordance with the MHA’s 2010 Advisory on Media Policy of Police.
In addition, media houses were directed to ensure that their coverage of the case is based on “verified and authentic sources” even though they don’t have to reveal them. Editors of media channels have been cautioned to ensure they “exercise proper editorial control so that the accused's rights are not violated.”
Justice Singh also directed that people associated with or related to Ravi should not put out any messages in the public, which “scandalise or malign” the police during the investigation.
Ravi’s lawyers submitted an undertaking that they had not done so till now, and would continue to ensure that this remained the case.
The judge, however, declined to pass any orders directing media houses to take down any of the content impugned in the petition, saying that would require a more detailed hearing.
Justice Singh did, however, note in the order that some of the videos of news channels’ coverage of the case “prima facie appears to be contrary to the stance of the Delhi Police.”
Though the media plays an important role in ensuring responsible journalism, she notes, “recent coverage definitely shows that there's prejudicial and sensational journalism that is undertaken by the media.”
The case will be taken up again on 17 March, with parties to file detailed replies within the next two weeks.
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