Editorial (Weekly magazine) Did our police cross the Rubicon?

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The thinking is delusional. And the act surreal. An attorney, heading back from a trip where he met his client, Nandanee Soornack – admittedly a ‘very close friend’ of public enemy number one – is arbitrarily arrested upon arrival and whisked off to the police station illico presto for questioning! There is no prior complaint, no charge against him nor is there a case lodged. No search warrant, no judge’s order, no nothing. Yet, poor Pazany Thandarayan watched as police officers ploughed through his belongings before his files, laptop and mobile phones were confiscated and kept in police custody. Included in the documents are what is legally known as “client-lawyer privileged information”. 

The legal profession – usually diplomatic and slow to react – is up in arms. It took no time to qualify this act as “unprecedented”, “dangerous” and a “violation of professional secrecy”. What is more is that the fact that Thandarayan’s ‘arrest’ was qualified as “a dangerous precedent” is an opinion shared by both the Mauritius Bar Council and the Mauritius Law Society, including members of parliament (MPs) from the government benches. Even barrister Ravi Rutnah, an MSM MP, said that “it is inconceivable that the police should appropriate the lawyer’s working documents.”

The puny opposition, which is still licking its wounds from a crushing defeat, compounded by infighting on the one hand and a deep crisis on the other, managed to find it in its heart to condemn the act and some even lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission to urge its president to look into the “excesses of the police”.

More worrying is the question which is on everyone’s mind: What exactly were the cops looking for when they confiscated the lawyer’s documents? Thandarayan allegedly heard one officer excitedly announce to his superior: “Boss, I think I have found the document. There is [Rakesh] Gooljaury’s name on it!” Are the police staking their reputation and trampling on the rights of the lawyer and his client just to defend a self-confessed liar and suspected crook? We know the guy was raised to the status of ‘investigator’ in the episode where he and three ministers took it upon themselves to question two expatriates until the early hours of the morning, threatening them with an objection to departure, but to go through all the trouble of seizing documents which might incriminate him more than he has incriminated himself already is a line I would like to believe the police would not cross. I sincerely hope – for their sake and for the sake of justice – that they have another plausible reason and a cogent argument to present to the judge in chambers on Friday.

By defending Thandarayan’s right to practise his profession without fear or favour, we are also defending his client’s right to a proper defence in our courts of law. We are, however, not defending the illegal acts allegedly committed by the woman. It is difficult to brush aside those alleged improprieties and felonies, let alone find it in one’s heart to show any sympathy for her. However, like every other citizen of this country, no matter what her crime is, she is entitled to her day in court. And for that, all our institutions have to be allowed to operate without undue pressure.

The matter is very serious, outrageous and cause for great civic and judicial concern.  I hope our courts of law send a very strong signal and throw the book (the law book that is) at anyone who thinks they’re above it. 

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