Musings At Law
For those who may have cared to read these Musings, I do feel the take away would/should have been that the characters in the Musings, did relish their practice. It was not a commercial call for them. It was commercial too. No doubt. First and foremost, however, they loved their profession. They enjoyed it too. Whether they were accidental professionals as Nani Palkhivala or those that set out to become an Attorney, it made little difference. The entire Judiciary, comprising the Judges and Lawyers both, reflected these sentiments. It was no nostalgic trip into the ‘good old days’. It was an honest recall in the Jim Kwik memory magic mould. No deliberate or contrived intent to communicate a message or any hidden agenda or axe to grind, with any underpinning, beyond the words. None whatsoever. It was just a dip into the old as in ‘time pass’, even at the metaphysical level.
Those were days, when one looked forward to appearance before courts every day. There were judges and judges, as lawyers and lawyers. It was fascinating to appear before them. What we learnt and practised was ’be sure of your facts, the bench would take care of the law’. For, they were, all of them, without exception, barring a select few, who travel to the bench, in the CK Daphtary Bug mode, were truly learned, and many scholars too. Adjournments were not there for the asking. No printing on the list that ‘Adjournments will not be granted’. It was a given and accepted as such. One had to be ready and on guard all the time. And how? Let me illustrate.
It was a Civil Revision Petition for final hearing listed, as item no.1, before Justice V. Ratnam, sitting in the 3rd court hall. Typically, the case bundle went missing in Senior’s office. Being the petitioner, one had to open the case and there were too many ‘other sides’ in this cause. There was no way, one can go to Court, and seek an adjournment. It was simply not on. Ratnam with his booming voice would say “get along”, and you had to. It would seem like a whiplash from a stern schoolmaster. What does one do?
I rush to court by 09.45 a.m. Meet with the office assistant Srinivasan. Take him into ‘confidence’ to share a copy of the Typed Set of papers. Run across the street, and take 25 copies, for the ‘other sides’. One took ‘xerox’ copies. (incidentally Rank Xerox is a company whose copier product has taken the name of the brand itself). As you rushed into Court- you hear the Silence, Silence, Silence from the Dafedar.
No Mention/Kention those days in his Court. He plunged into the cases on Board, straight of the bat. The Court clerk will call as if ‘from deep inside a well’ (description from an advocate friend, who became a judge too) and one had to be on guard. No second chances, if you miss the bus. The papers were passed on to the Judge, sitting well above, rising to his full height, which was tall and gangling, and looking down, adding physical stature to the legal majesty of the Court.
I was in the first seat, to ensure that I heard the clerk calling the case right. I get up and submit, “Mi Lord, I appear for the petitioner. The CRP has been filed by a nationalised bank against an order…” Judge, “Excuse me, what are you holding in your hand. Freshly minted set of papers shining white.” So saying, he smelt the original in his hand. It must have sent petrol vasanai- smell (which was normal), as I found the office assistant Srinivasan hurriedly exiting the court, for fear of his ‘services’ being exposed, and pulled up by the Judge.
The Judge grinned (very rare occurrence) and said, “So, you are the beneficiary of the bounty, which took to heels, from this Court. Well done, at least you had the good sense to take copies and be ready to argue and not come up with the excuse that the case bundle was missing. Get along”. Oh, My God, I thought, this man/judge is ridiculously smart. I was extremely pleased that I had done the leg and home work, to get ready to get along. I heaved a huge sigh of relief, as I told myself to beware of ‘such sterling faculties’ too, from judges on the pulpit.
As I got up to urge my submissions, on behalf of the nationalised bank, 22 Senior Advocates (Yes, I am not joking or setting this up, almost the entire lot of designated Seniors), got up, representing the series of defendants. I was absolutely stunned and the Judge even more. “What sort of a CRP is this that all the Seniors have joined forces to oppose this newcomer?” (Incidentally, Justice V Ratnam too had written the Foreword for one of my books and therefore I was confident, he knew I ‘knew’ something).
I put the Judge on notice that it was a simple suit for recovery, filed by a nationalised bank, against a fertiliser company, based in Coimbatore, for nearly Rs. 50 crores. The defendant borrower filed an application to implead the Ministry of Fertiliser and Chemicals, Union of India and 21 fertiliser companies from all over India. The contention was that the borrower was unable to pay up, because of the sudden change in fertiliser policy of the government, and all the fertiliser companies in India, would/should vouch for it, so that the borrower can seek a restructuring of the loan, to ease the financial exigency faced by them.
It was ordered in the IA filed by the defendant- “The respondents sought to be impleaded in the IA have all endorsed that they had no objection for impleading. Petition is allowed. The plaintiff is directed to carry out the amendment and serve copies on the impleaded parties for their written statements”.
I got up and said, that is where the problem comes. “The IA was filed by the sole borrower defendant to implead so many defendants. The plaintiff bank opposed it, and filed a counter statement. Mistakenly or otherwise, this was not noted and based on the endorsement, made by the fertiliser companies, the IA was allowed, as if the plaintiff had also agreed for it.”
Judge, “What the hell is going in our subordinate judiciary? I knew they were capable of passing orders injuncting a pregnant mother from delivering, but this is amazing.” He checked and found out that 21 separate advocates had filed vakalats, for the parties sought to be impleaded and boomed, “It is obvious that all these advocates have behaved like mercenaries. They have all said No Objection and there could be no other reason than that the said impleaded defendants, in the suit, may have to cough up Advocate fees as per the existing practices ad valorem, on the suit value, running to several crores. How cheap can one get? And all of them in unison. Shame on the profession. I intend to….”
All the 22 Senior Advocates got up together. It was a sight for sore eyes of a newcomer and absolutely enjoyable. I can see it my mind’s eye, even at this distance and…..
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)