Not too long ago,the Bombay High Court had a judge who had been elevated from the Nagpur Bar.
Even his elevation had become a matter of controversy and was delayed for some time as many had made allegations and opposed it.
But this judge was finally appointed.
He was duly confirmed in due course.
After that, he was permanently posted at the BHC’s principal seat at Bombay where he served till retirement.
When he retired, he was senior enough to be part of the High Court collegium.
His volatile temperament, nasty remarks and generally boorish behaviour was detested by the Bar but his ability to clear arrears of backlog by finally disposing even complicated cases argued by batteries of senior lawyers kept him free from harm.
We will call him Justice Irascible.
(Yes,it is the same judge who was featured in the last anecdote too, alongwith his Counsel Pet!)
Many hot-potato cases which other judges had avoided taking up were regularly assigned by whoever was the Chief to Justice Irascible.
He made short work of them in no time with reasoned judgments and orders.
Gradually, the Bar began to tolerate Justice Irascible and accepted him as a package-deal of good and bad qualities.
For some reason, Justice Irascible did not like ladies practicing law.
He was openly misogynistic at times.
In one instance, he had insulted a respected lady lawyer who was not present when her case was called out and who later explained that some domestic duties had delayed her a bit that day by asking in open court:
“Why do you at all come to court?
The proper place of women like you is in the kitchen”
As the lady lawyer did not make an issue of it and as social media was unheard of in those days, Irascible got away with the nasty remark.
Personal remarks and insults were a frequent occurrence in Justice Irascible’s court.
His targets usually were the ones who couldn’t or wouldn’t retaliate.
Which meant very old lawyers, very raw juniors or lady lawyers.
One could say without exaggeration that Justice Irascible came across as a quintessential judicial bully.
I remember two instances from his court vividly.
They illustrate two different facets of this judge’s personality.
Was he suffering from bipolar disorder?
We will never know.
The first instance was when a senior labour lawyer stood up to him.
Judge: Is this the way to draft a writ petition?
Advocate: I am engaged as a counsel.
The AOR may have missed something..though I personally find nothing wrong with this petition.
Judge: That shows your caliber is extremely poor.
Advocate: That may be your opinion Milord.
It is not a fact.
Judge: Do you not know even the basic concepts of writs?
Look at your grounds..your prayers.
Advocate: Milord may hear me and then decide.
Judge: Who gave you a law degree?
We must start issuing show cause notices to law colleges and universities which confer such degrees upon people like you.
Advocate: Milord may kindly hear the matter.
Judge: No.I want to know. Answer my question.
Which University gave you your law degree?
Advocate(after a long pause,looking at the judge straight in the eye):
Milord, it is the same University which gave you yours!
That shut Justice Irascible up good and proper.
After that, he quietly heard the matter.
Surprisingly, he even granted reliefs!
The second instance was when a fairly senior Appellate Side lawyer wanted to avoid arguing his matter before Justice Irascible but was wondering how he could possibly dodge this pugnacious judge.
Just then, a young girl who had recently got her sanad (licence to practice) from the Bar Council came to the bar room looking for this very lawyer.
She told him that she had been referred by someone and was wondering if he could accommodate her as a junior in his Chambers.
To the lawyer, this was a godsend.
He told her that he would consider her request but before that he would like to give her a small “test”.
She just has to go to a courtroom in a little while and when one case of his was called out she simply had to “Ask for time”.
The girl, who had not expected to appear in court that very day, complained that she did not even have the proper uniform.
The lawyer immediately requested obliging bar room colleagues to loan her bands and a gown, handed her the brief and led her to the door of the courtroom of Justice Irascible.
He then instructed her to just go in and sit..and do as she was told.
If she could get an adjournment from the judge she would be employed!
By now, many of the bar room juniors who had nothing better to do than watch what happened in Justice Irascible’s court when this unsuspecting girl asked for time, went to the courtroom to watch the “fun”.
The girl was not from Bombay.
She knew nothing about High Court practice and procedure but perhaps had some idea of panchayats and talathi proceedings at the village level where all proceedings were in Marathi.
As a result, she displayed no sign of any stage-fright or nervousness.
It may be that her ignorance was the cause of the bliss visible on her face.
As she sat in court waiting for her “senior’s” case to reach, she kept mumbling “Ask time, ask time, ask time” lest she forgot those words.
In all probability, she was sub-consciously doing a quick Marathi translation of what she had to say.
So when the matter did get called out after a while, egged on by the watching juniors, she very boldly stood up.
Judge (glaring at her): Are you appearing in this matter?
There was total silence from the girl.
Judge: What do you want?
Once again total silence..
The judge, realising that she probably did not understand English, (to his court associate, in Marathi):
“Tila vichaara, kaay pahije?” (Ask her what she wants)
The associate then conveyed to her milord’s query in Marathi.
And the Girl replied:
“Saheb kiti vaajlet?” (Sir,what is the time?)
Now the associate was flummoxed.
So was Justice Irascible, who, by now, looked more bemused than annoyed.
Here was a young girl asking him what was the time!
He then asked her in Marathi..why did she want to know what was the time?
She replied that her senior had asked her to.
Now, the judge was most curious.
He first asked her when she had got her sanad?
She candidly confided that today was the first day she had come to the High Court to meet the senior and that this appearance was to be her “test”!
Justice Irascible looked stumped.
He understood her plight and asked her very patiently: What exactly did your senior tell you?
The girl cheerfully replied:
He told me to come to your court and ask for time.
That is why I am asking what is the time!
At this, even Justice Irascible could not control his laughter.
He told the court associate to grant a brief adjournment in that matter and told the girl that she had passed her “test”!
But before parting with the matter he made it a point to tell her that he wanted her senior to remain personally present along with her on the next date of hearing so that she could witness how Justice Irascible was going to “test” him!