Judges Should Understand, Law and Justice are Often not Synonymous

Judges are capable of making fundamental changes, not only in a nation’s life but in the lives of individuals. That is why they should understand that law and justice are often not synonymous. Like Solomon, they must soar and not sulk with the law, writes JUSTICE YATINDRA SINGH (Retd.).


SOME time ago, a gentle and kind voice asked me on the phone if I remember her. Of course, I did not. She told me we had met in the Supreme Court and at my residence office in NOIDA, regarding the rejection of her candidature by the Union Public Service Commission.

I then recollected the face behind the voice! She had qualified in the written civil services examination, but her candidature was rejected as her certificate was not in the prescribed format. She was not to blame: she had submitted the certificate as it had been given to her by the state official. She had filed a case before a court, where I could not or perhaps did not appear. The case was not proceeding; she was worried and she wanted to know what to do.

I had spent some time over the file and advised her to change her line of arguments. I had assured her if this was done then there was no way she could lose the case. She wanted to pay for the consultation but I had declined. Thereafter, she never contacted me and I forgot about the meeting.

She told me over the phone that she advised her lawyer to change the line of arguments to what I had suggested. The case was allowed, she was interviewed, and selected for the Indian Administrative Service. She was getting married to her friend, who had attended coaching with her for the civil services examination and she wanted to come over to thank me and also invite me to their wedding.

To say the least, I was happy for her and pleased that I had been able to help. A few hours, some consultation, and a bit of advice changed her life forever. I invited her, her fiancé, and some young friends for dinner. We had a wonderful evening—my best in NOIDA. But one thing that intrigued me was why had she come to me in the first place.

After I retired, I had taught for one semester at Allahabad University. A cousin of her fiancé was in my class. He had my email address. When the young woman was frustrated and felt helpless, this cousin gave her the email to contact me for advice. What a coincidence, what a chance, and what the satisfaction that consultation gave me.

And this is why a lawyer must remember to help the needy. Money is not everything—even a little help may change not only the life of the one who needs it but may give immense pleasure, satisfaction to the one assisting.

This episode also reminds me of another incident from my judgeship. It happened when I had started presiding over a division bench at the Allahabad High Court.

In Allahabad, some benches deal with specific types of cases. There is one bench that does the work that has not been assigned to any other bench and is known as Miscellaneous Bench. These benches keep on changing approximately once every three months.

Sometimes, there is an overlapping of the jurisdiction and here the ability of the legal counsel matters. Judges differ in their outlooks, their attitudes—and advocates should know their judges, and file their cases before judges who are likely to pass a favourable order.

One January about 15 years ago, I was presiding over the Miscellaneous Bench. During the lunch break, my private secretary told me some boys and girls were outside the chambers in tears and wished to meet me. I was puzzled and called them over.

They were candidates in the preliminary examination for the Provincial Civil Services (PCS), which was to be held on the next Sunday. It was their last chance to clear the test. They had filled the form but there was some clerical error that they had been asked to remove, which they had done, but while some candidates in their position had received their admit cards, they had not. They had filed a case, but it was not being taken up.

Obviously, if they were not permitted to appear in the exam, they would have lost their last opportunity. They were rightly worried and therefore in tears. I asked the candidates why their advocate had not mentioned the case in the morning. They told me they knew nothing except they had given the fees and documents to their advocate. I told them to ask their advocate to mention the matter after lunch.

It was mentioned, we summoned the files and the advocate for the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission. After hearing them, we passed an interim order permitting the candidates to appear in the examination subject to the result of the case.

After we had passed the order, the advocate for the commission informed us that the candidates’ advocate had mentioned the case before the Service Bench, which had refused the request. Thereafter, the advocate had gone to the Acting Chief Justice, who had expressed helplessness in the matter.

Appearing for an examination is a matter to be dealt with by the Miscellaneous Bench and not the Service Bench, but as this was for the PCS examination, there was some room for doubt. The Service Bench was presided by a judge who not only scolded the advocates but was stingy in granting relief. I do not know why the candidates’ advocate chose that bench.

He seems to have forgotten the fundamental rule: Know your judge and half the case is won.

Proprietary demanded that before mentioning the case, the candidates’ advocate should have informed us about prior mentioning before the Service Bench and his meeting with the Acting Chief Justice. His conduct was inexcusable. However, to punish the candidates for the mistake of their advocate would have been wrong. Even so, we were in the soup as to what to do.

I observed that we have no doubt that the Miscellaneous Bench had jurisdiction over the case but as it was pointed out, we would record everything and send the case to the Acting Chief Justice to form a special bench on the next day, a Saturday, to consider the case. I also informed them that on Saturday I was to deliver a talk at the IIIT Allahabad and there was also a traditional lunch of the High Court at the Magh Mela.

So, in all likelihood, the bench would be formed in the evening and in case any interim order is passed, then the commission should be ready to make arrangements for them to sit for the examination.

The advocate for the Commission was a fair one. He said that the interim order was proper, as the justice of the case demanded it and that the Service Bench had lacked the sense of justice that judges should have. He felt we should sign the order and might not adopt the procedure suggested by me, as it would put the candidates in confusion. We did not doubt the correctness of our order and we signed it.

The jurisdiction changed, the case was never listed before my bench, and other matters occupied my attention over time. However, after I had received the phone call from the gentle voice, I became curious as to what happened to these candidates too. So, after 15 years, I inquired from the candidates’ advocate. He remembered the case well and informed me that all of them were selected, that they are in various services and are obliged to the court for making a sea change in their lives.

Judges are capable of making fundamental changes not only in a nation’s life but in the lives of individuals. Yet, they often fail to do so. This happens when the judges are in awe of the law or are confused about what justice and law mean. This is what had happened with the Service Bench. They even refused to consider the case. Without even an interim order, the candidates would have lost their last chance to appear in an important test that could change their lives.

Judges should understand that law and justice are often not synonymous. Judges should be like Solomon. They do not have to sulk but soar with the law.

This, too, reminds me of other instances, but of that some other time…

(Yatindra Singh retired as Chief Justice, Chhattisgarh High Court. He is a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court. The views expressed are personal.)

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