A Merry Court

The temples of justice are also home to moments of laughter.

Written by Soli J. Sorabjee | Published: October 16, 2015 12:03 am
India, Indian courts, C K Daphtary, Bombay high court, Daphtary stock exchange, Servulus Baptista, fun at indian courts, indian courts jokes These are just a few instances to illustrate fun and games in court in which both lawyers and judges are participants.

Courts are regarded as temples of justice, where proceedings are conducted with solemnity in a forbidding atmosphere. Yet there are lively humorous moments showcasing both lawyers and judges.

C.K. Daphtary, who later became the attorney general of India, was arguing a case relating to stock exchange transactions before Justice Somjee in the Bombay High Court. It was generally known that Daphtary had dabbled in the stock exchange and lost heavily. During arguments, Daphtary insisted on putting a relevant question to a witness but the judge did not permit that and, moreover, made a nasty remark, “Mr Daphtary, you would of course be very familiar with stock exchange matters.”

Daphtary kept his cool. Later when a law reporter cited before the judge was not in the judge’s library and therefore handed over from the Bar, the judge testily remarked, “Mr Daphtary, there is a bug in the law reporter.” Daphtary retorted: “My lord, this is not the first time that a bug has travelled from the Bar to the bench”. There was stunned silence in the court as Justice Somjee, who was appointed from the Bar, sank into gloomy silence. There was widespread appreciation of Daphtary’s memorable retort.

There was an advocate in the Bombay High Court who was very proud of his name, “Servulus Baptista”, so different from common Christian names. Chief Justice Tambe, in the course of delivering an oral judgment, could not locate the exact page of the law reporter that was cited. He looked at Baptista, who had appeared in the case, and loudly asked, “Lobo, what page?”

A crestfallen Baptista gave the page number. Minutes later, Justice Tambe was prevented by his brother judge on the bench from repeating his mistake about the name. Thereupon, with a beaming smile, Justice Tambe told Baptista, “There was an advocate in Nagpur called Lobo, so I called you Lobo”. The chief justice’s explanation was poor consolation for Baptista, who was thereafter greeted by naughty lawyers with cries of “Lobo, Lobo” in the Bar library and at the Bar Association.

The first passport case, Satwant Singh Sawhney vs Union of India, was heard by a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court presided over by the great citizen judge, K. Subba Rao. Justice C.A. Vaidialingam, who was a member of the bench, was singularly silent during the proceedings. I was arguing the case. Lawyers in court challenged me to break Justice Vaidialingam’s monastic silence and promised me a princely sum of Rs 100 (the year was 1967) if I succeeded. I resorted to the expedient of asking, in the course of my arguments, “Has my Lord Justice Vaidialingam got a copy of my written submissions.” The judge replied in three words. “Yes, I have.” The silence was definitely broken but I was not paid the promised sum because just three words were not considered sufficient.
There was a hilarious episode before the then Goa bench of the Bombay High Court.

A probationer had challenged his termination in his writ petition on the ground that he was not heard before the order was passed and the principles of natural justice had been violated. Appearing for the department, I argued that when probation is terminated, according to its terms, there is no requirement for prior hearing unless any aspersion of inefficiency or unpunctuality or laziness is cast on the probationer.

The argument appealed to the judge, who asked the probationer’s counsel, “Show me where has the department called your client a lazy bugger.” The probationer’s counsel vehemently argued and said that he would rely on several Supreme Court judgments to support his case. But the learned judge persisted in his query. On the pretext of going to the washroom, I left the courtroom, laughed my sides out in the corridor and returned after two minutes to find that the lazy-bugger duel was going on. The judge dismissed the probationer’s writ petition on the ground that there was no material on record that any aspersion was cast on the probationer that he was a lazy bugger.

These are just a few instances to illustrate fun and games in court in which both lawyers and judges are participants.

The writer is a former attorney general of India

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  1. T
    Oct 16, 2015 at 10:42 am
    Never able to comprehend SC awards death sentence but then on a subsequent hearing converts in to life even though no fresh evidence is tendered on behalf of the convict
    1. C
      Oct 16, 2015 at 10:27 pm
      How you can publish about court like this, it may be a contempt of court.
      1. G
        Oct 16, 2015 at 8:30 am
        Sorry, my comment is not related to thiz particular article. I can't understand how opinions of judges on a panel differ(sometimes totally) when there is one consution having same sets laws and rules. Doesn't it mean that the judgements involve personal interpretation of judges?
        1. G
          Oct 16, 2015 at 7:02 am
          The temples of justice are halls of injustice. The law has been stood on its head. The judges indulge in politics through PILs. The well connected and the powerful can get their cases heard multiple times and even get judges to recuse themselves to ensure a compliant bench. A stay Is always available to prevent justice from ever being administered. All this while cases wait for a hearing for years. The only people laughing are the judges and the lawyers.
          1. H
            Oct 16, 2015 at 5:32 pm
            It is not necessary that justice should not laugh but certainly not at the cost of common people. The justice that cannot even protect the common people right to eat and put restriction on cheap nutritious food, it is not better to talk about. However, there is nothing wrong as from centuries to centuries justice remain synonymous with governance. However, there is little exception such as when it makes Indira hi election invalid for putting some extra car or legally converts Shahabano or gives property right to mythological figure. These things also happen worldwide but in a democracy its onus lies on common people. Because, in a democracy to protect owns right is in common people’s hand than anybody else but in an EVM democracy it solely lies on media and marginally on justice.
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