Advt vijayaragavan —It was 05.30 a.m. on the morning of a Friday. My Senior got in touch with me through a landline call to my neighbour. (You see, we had no connection in our house and such neighbourly touch base was quite common). He asked me to come calling to the residence of a Judge who was due to retire in a couple of months or so, by 06.30 a.m. As is my habit, I was there 10 minutes earlier, as my Senior came calling at 06.45 a.m. but ready to meet the Judge by 06.30 a.m. I always poked fun at him that he had the H G Wells faculty to do time travel to come to office by 10.45 a.m. but somehow make it to court by 10.30 a.m.
MUSINGS AT LAW-XIX
Let us be brutally honest to ourselves. At least during these Pandemic times, when each one of is compelled and constrained to introspect .Have we all not heard of judgments being ‘fixed’ or ‘procured’ or at the very least ‘influenced’. The corridors of courts are always full of such stories, but they are always hush hush lest…The ‘public sub jaantha hai’ – The people know everything. I am making bold to muse on a judgment which was ‘influenced’, for sure, if nothing else.
It was 05.30 a.m. on the morning of a Friday. My Senior got in touch with me through a landline call to my neighbour. (You see, we had no connection in our house and such neighbourly touch base was quite common). He asked me to come calling to the residence of a Judge who was due to retire in a couple of months or so, by 06.30 a.m. As is my habit, I was there 10 minutes earlier, as my Senior came calling at 06.45 a.m. but ready to meet the Judge by 06.30 a.m. I always poked fun at him that he had the H G Wells faculty to do time travel to come to office by 10.45 a.m. but somehow make it to court by 10.30 a.m.
Senior and I were ushered into the office of the learned judge on Greenways road. And it was clear, he was anxiously waiting for us. Judge” “Sorry, to call you so early in the morning. But, I had to get it out of my chest, as quickly as possible. I am extremely upset and agitated. I have already had three cups of coffee- would you like to have one? So saying, Judge fell at the feet of my elderly senior. “Tell me, I have apologised you. Then I will tell you why?” My senior slowly helped the Judge up and let him take his seat. Judge had moist eyes and was doing his utmost to hold it back.
Senior, “Judge, I have known you for such a long time. It is not correct for you to be so upset at this age. Please take it, I shall accept your apologies a hundred and one times, if that would calm your nerves. It does not matter what the issue is, when you feel so strongly about it, I am certain that you deserve my apologies .I am too old and experienced to be perturbed so easily. God Bless.”.
Judge: “I am extremely sad with what I am constrained to do. Much against my wishes, but helpless in my position. Iruthalai Kolli Erumbu (Bipolar ant). You would remember that I have reserved orders in the suit filed by you, challenging a sale of property by an Advocate Receiver appointed under Sec.69 of Transfer of Property Act. You know I am slated to retire in a few months. So I have been dictating the order and now almost come to the operative portion of it. I would shamelessly concede that I had decided to decree the suit of your client, as I found overwhelming evidence of fraud, perpetrated by the advocate receiver, who manipulated the circumstances, to sell the property to none other than his sister, possibly as benami for himself. It is a valuable property in the heart of Chennai, and your clients, the elderly parents of their only son in the United States, were clearly duped. The evidence you were able to marshall, during cross examination, is too glaring, for any sane and alert Judge to miss.” Then the Judge went silent for a few minutes, which seemed like a time lag, during a Lockdown.
Judge took a sip another sip and yet another sip of water, and more, (I remember so much at this distance of time, for it has been once in a life time happening) before he resumed, “I had fixed Monday as date for pronouncement of the verdict. But a week back, I got a call from the office of a Senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, who had been elevated from our High Court. He was my senior, in a sense, as well, in the Bar. He openly drew my attention to the suit on hand and told me that under no circumstances, I should decree the suit. He expected me to dismiss the suit. I did not answer him either way, but respectfully told him, I would keep his advice in mind.”
“Despite his call, I continued writing the judgment as I had planned. To decree the suit. I had two further calls from his personal secretary reminding me that the Judge wanted me to get back and confirm my compliance. I did not, hoping that the storm would pass .But, believe me you, the Judge came calling, in person, last weekend, and told me that he had made the trip to Chennai, only for the purpose of ensuring compliance, as the advocate needed his protection. He told me that he would not take ‘No’ for an answer, and If I wanted him to apologise to him for his ‘influencing’ the verdict, he was offering it as well. He made it clear that he would not take ‘No’ for an answer, under any circumstance.”
Judge ordered one more cup of coffee and the silence in the meanwhile was too suspenseful. My memory card was of course, typically uploading the data, recording the events, occasion, and the words. He resumed, “Then, he has called four days straight now and told me that I must ensure compliance. I am sorry, I am now left with no choice. Now I intend to tweak the judgment, to end it in dismissal. But, my conscience has made it clear to me that what I have dictated thus far shall remain. I shall unsatisfactorily tweak the end portions of the judgment. I intend to do it deliberately and intentionally, the least I owe to your clients and my conscience. So that, anyone who reads the judgment, would be in a position to appreciate that my intended conclusion was diametrically different to the one I reached ultimately. I am making sure that you had all the grounds available, to challenge my order, and it must be easy for any conscientious judge to see through the game, I have played in the order and allow the appeal. I am more than certain that justice would surely be done to your clients, though they may get anything but that, before me. I am concerned that I am breaching the oath I took as a judge, or I am answering the pangs of conscience, by leaving gaping holes, in my judgment. I readily admit and concede, but surely not in public, that my judgment is in fact, an ‘influenced’ one.
Judge had tears in his eyes. My senior did not say a word. He got up and stood there for a minute. I literally hid behind his frame. My senior politely took leave and swore me to silence and we both went our ways. We did not discuss about this case, even in our office or in the corridor. Come Monday, the suit was posted for Judgment. Neither my senior nor I was present, by choice. A colleague was present and that may have sent a message of its own, to the Judge. There was only one judgment listed for the day and other cases, on the Board. But, I gather that the Judge simply said DISMISSED and got up and walked off abruptly, without hearing any of the cases listed for the day.
True to word, the Judge made ready the judgment, decree, certified copies in a matter of couple of days. Most unusual, for a original side suit which lasted a decade, with many witnesses and a whole host of documents, marked as evidence. Judge delivered the certified copies in our office with a note signed by him “Good Luck”.
Two weeks before the retirement of the Judge, I got a repeat call at 05.30 a.m. from my senior, asking me to come over to the Judge’s residence by 06.30 a.m. again. As we entered his chambers, we found a senior advocate of eminence, a former advocate general too, sitting with the Judge. My senior hesitated to enter when the Judge said, “Please come in. He too is here on my request, for the same purpose.”
Judge,” I have been deeply disturbed for the past several weeks. I have not slept well at all. I am haunted by what I have done. I have refused to take calls from the Supreme Court judge also, as I was painfully hurt by his twirling my hands. I could not satisfy myself that my financial integrity was not compromised .This is unacceptable intellectual dishonesty, which I may have to take to my grave. I have been following up this case, even after the pronouncement of orders. I came to know that the sister of the advocate commissioner had sold the property, in a hurry, after the dismissal of the suit, anticipating an appeal. Now, the purchaser of this property happens to be the client of our former advocate general, who is here on my request.”
For some reason, the Judge was neither drinking coffee nor sipping water this time. He seemed to be at much more ease and comfort, than the last time round. It was quite striking to me and the difference too obvious to miss. Judge: “I have already spoken to the former advocate general. I have taken him into confidence, on what had transpired. I came to know he has filed a caveat to protect the interest of the purchaser, through the sister of the advocate receiver. I have told him in plain terms, just as I sought your apologies, that he must settle this case, by paying a handsome amount to the parents, over and above the purchase price, his client may have paid. And typically, the gentleman he is, he has agreed and said that he would ensure that his client would issue a blank cheque for such amount my senior sought as compensation, for the parents. Please do not miss this opportunity. Not to enable your clients, the elderly parents, to get some compensation. But to ensure that I went to my grave, with a clearer conscience, than the tainted one I am forced to grapple with now. I beseech you once again, as I have done of the former advocate general too, and agree for the same with a larger heart, for my sake.”
My senior went and sat next to the former advocate general. He invited me to join in, as I was privy to the case from day one. Senior, “Brother, we must consider this a glorious opportunity to serve the cause of justice every which way. This is one experience, I will never ever forget. We must be profusely thankful to the Judge for what efforts he is taking. He owes us nothing, from his position. And you and I know, there are so many judges, we have seen in our time, with a convenient conscience. This Judge has been so different and his efforts are touching and commendable. But my only regret would be that the advocate receiver, who played the villain and fraud, would get away with murder. He got the property sold to his sister. Now arranged for sale from the sister to your client. Now, your client may graciously agree to pay more for the property, thanks to your munificence, just to ensure that the Judge got his peace of mind back. My clients have already decided to go abroad to be with their only son. They were extremely saddened that they would have been going to meet him as a pauper. Now, this dramatic turn of events would enable them, to go with a decent sum of money in their hand. I will ensure they agree for it, as it is a godsend from the Judge’s conscience, as it were. But what of the advocate receiver who walked away with the loot? Would justice have been done?”
Judge, “I do not know how I should thank the two of you generous souls, for providing balm to my soul and conscience. My god, the settlement of this case and money going to the hands of the parents, despite their losing a case, they ought not to have, is something which I cannot imagine, without the largeheartedness of the two of you. Both of you elder to me in age, knowledge and experience. I am extremely grateful to you for what you have done, in such a difficult case? Yes, I would be retiring in a few days with not so heavy a heart, but what a tragedy, I would be mouthing platitudes in my farewell speech on need for honesty, integrity in Judgeship. I think that would be the just punishment for my role in this saga.” He fell at the feet of both the Senior. Then said “I feel extremely relieved that events have taken a turn for the good and not worse.”
And then he paused, paused and paused. He gulped two cups of water, which I can still remember. Asked for a towel and wiped his face. Called the three of us close to his seat and said, “Yes, you are right. The advocate receiver was the chief culprit and crook. We have all played our part, to rescue the parents from his machinations. It may appear that he has walked off with the loot, unaffected and unimpacted. May I tell you that God’s will has caught up with him as the wheels of justice…..
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)