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Saturday, May 30, 2020

When humour and banter enlivened proceedings

There are judges and judges and lawyers and lawyers, and as Charles Dickens wrote, “if the law supposes that, the law is a ass”. I wonder what would be Dickens’ reaction to this incident.

Written by Soli J. Sorabjee | Updated: May 18, 2020 10:11:43 am
indian legal cystem, legal arguments in court, india judiciary, Bombay High Court, entertaninng court arguments, C K Daphtary Solicitor General and Attorney General Generally, listening to legal arguments in court is not entertaining but rather tedious. (File Photo)

Law is not a dull profession. Generally, listening to legal arguments in court is not entertaining but rather tedious. However, there are lively and memorable moments too, one of which involves an incident in the Bombay High Court in Justice Somjee’s court where C K Daphtary, affectionately called Chandhu bhai — before he became Solicitor General and Attorney General — was cross-examining a witness regarding a stock exchange transaction.

It was known that Chandhu bhai had dabbled in stock exchange transactions. When Chandhu bhai persisted in cross examining a witness regarding a stock exchange transaction, Justice Somjee declined to allow him to do so and tastelessly remarked, “Mr Daphtary, you will of course know all about stock exchange transactions”. Daphtary did not respond and kept his cool. As the case proceeded, a law report was required to be cited but the same was not in the judges’ library. Therefore, it was handed over to the Bench from the Bar. Justice Somjee impatiently remarked, “Mr Daphtary, there is a bug in the book” to which Chandhu bhai’s shattering reply was “My Lord, it is not the first time that a bug has travelled from the Bar to the Bench”. Justice Somjee sulked, but members of the Bar who were in the court were full of praise for Chandhu bhai and congratulated him warmly.

The other incident I recollect happened in the Bombay High Court library at about 4:30 pm — the High Court closes its proceedings at 4:45 pm. A G Noorani, the well-known columnist, said to Murli Bhandare, who at that time used to practise in the labour and industrial courts in South Bombay, “you have insulted me”. Murli’s reply was, “in that case I will add injury to insult”. He pushed Noorani to the bookshelves in the High Court library, even as shards of broken glass fell all over the place. Bhandare became the favourite of the members of the Bar — no one dared to take any action against Bhandare, who was showered with praise.

Hotchand Advani was a successful lawyer and a favourite of the Sindhi community to which he belonged. He was also a good-natured and good-hearted person. One day, the telephone in my chamber went out of order. So I requested Advani to let me make a call from his telephone. Advani’s chamber was next to mine, and he readily agreed. I made the call, but Advani would not let me leave his chamber unless I made other calls. I did not want to displease him so I made some totally unnecessary calls. Advani had once applied for the adjournment of his case on the ground that one of his cases was reaching the Privy Council, which was an imaginary reason. Good old Hotchand.

The other incident I remember happened before the Bench that Chief Justice Tambe was presiding over in the Bombay High Court. An advocate, small in size and invariably dressed in a three-piece suit, he was very proud of his name, Servulus Baptista: He was the favourite of the Catholic community. Chief Justice Tambe addressed advocate Baptista as Lobo. When the other judge on the Bench pointed out that the name of the counsel was not Lobo, Chief Justice Tambe explained and said “there was an advocate in Nagpur called Lobo so I called you Lobo”. The lawyers in the courtroom could not help laughing and Chief Justice Tambe did not pacify Baptista for calling him Lobo by giving his explanation. Since then, Baptista was greeted with the name of Lobo in the Bar canteen and the Bar library.

Another incident that is still in my memory involves a case which was filed by a probationer. My argument was that a probationer has no right of hearing and principles of natural justice do not apply to his termination unless there is some allegation of inefficiency or laziness. That argument appealed to the judge who came down on the probationer’s advocate and asked him if the authorities had called his client a lazy fellow. The probationer’s advocate wanted to refer to a Supreme Court judgment, but the judge persisted and said “we will come to the Supreme Court judgment later but you first point out whether the authorities have called your client a lazy fellow”. I left the courtroom on the pretext of going to the washroom as I could not control my laughter. Upon my return, after three minutes, I found the “lazy fellow” argument still going on and, believe it or not, the writ petition was dismissed on that ground.

There are judges and judges and lawyers and lawyers, and as Charles Dickens wrote, “if the law supposes that, the law is a ass”. I wonder what would be Dickens’ reaction to this incident.

The writer is a former attorney general of India

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