Representative Image Only

Not before me

This is a story which involves four very good friends.

All of them were highly respected senior counsel who had what we call a ‘roaring’ practice on the appellate side of the Bombay High Court.

One was an acknowledged Rent Act expert, another went on to become Advocate General, the third was a socially conscious activist-lawyer, and the fourth friend was a designated senior advocate with a booming voice.

The senior advocate was into fitness, yoga and spirituality.

His three friends were very surprised when he accepted the offer of being elevated to the Bench, knowing full well that he would not have a very long tenure and that he would become junior to several judges who were much junior to him at the Bar.

No one could understand his decision.

But soon his name got cleared, he was sworn in and, given his status and seniority at the Bar, he was mostly given single-judge assignments.

He became a big favourite with the Bar as he never dismissed matters for default and encouraged juniors who were well-prepared and willing to argue or work out the matter.

It so happened that very soon this milord’s own chamber juniors began to harvest the benefits of their senior’s liberalism on the Bench.

The usual practice till then was that a senior lawyer, once elevated, would give instructions to the registry not to list matters of his immediate juniors prior to the elevation before his Bench.

However, this milord had given no such instruction.

As a result, his two up-and-coming juniors started getting almost 100 percent success before his Bench.

Thereupon, even eminent seniors started briefing these two juniors before the milord with amazing results. Soon, these two juniors had so much work before their former senior’s Bench that they became permanent fixtures in his court, being briefed in almost every matter for one side or the other.

Naturally, tongues started wagging at the Bar. Finally, a bunch of lawyers decided to approach this milord’s three best friends and colleagues from the Bar with their grievance.

These three seniors were looked upon as the ‘conscience keepers’ of the appellate side Bar and were highly respected by all the milords.

After patiently listening to allegations of blatant favouritism by their milord friend, they made enquiries and found that it was true that in 90 percent of the cases before this milord, his own two juniors appeared and in almost all such cases they were granted favourable Orders.

They promised the agitated Bar members that they would personally meet their milord friend and convey their concern.

They said they were confident that after their meeting, the milord in question would follow the salutary practice of ‘not before me’ and their grievance would be redressed.

The complaining Bar members went home quite pleased with themselves.

All that was left for them to do was wait for the ‘not before me’ Orders from that milord in respect of those two juniors.

The scene now shifts to the milord’s chambers.

The three seniors, his best friends at the Bar, have had their tea and biscuits and appraised milord of the ‘grievance’.

Milord: “Do you think I am a bad judge?”

The seniors: “Of course not.”

Milord: “Should I discriminate between juniors or go on the merits of a case?”

Seniors: “On merits, of course.”

Milord: “Are my erstwhile juniors not competent?”

Seniors: “They are competent.”

Milord: “Then why should they miss the opportunity of arguing their cases on merits before a good judge?”

The seniors did not know how to respond. They mumbled something about ‘public perception’.

The activist senior solemnly said: “Justice must not only be done but manifestly appear to have been done!”

After listening to these three wise men for some time, the milord finally asked: “What do you expect me to do?”

Seniors: “You should follow the noble tradition and say ‘Not before me!’

Milord: “If you all feel so I shall do it. Though, personally, I don’t think it is necessary. But you are my good friends. I am pained that you should have thought I was being biased. Anyway, I shall issue the instructions as requested right away.”

The three wise men returned to the Bar room looking like politicians who had just been declared elected.

It will be ‘not before me’ from tomorrow,” they triumphantly announced.

Everyone cheered. Some even clapped.

After they left, the milord told his personal assistant to contact the registry and instruct them not to list any matter of the three seniors who had come to meet him before his Bench henceforth in any assignment.

The next day, a notice appeared stating that the milord had made these three senior worthies ‘not before me’ for doubting his impartiality.

The briefs in the matters before the milord in which those seniors could not appear due to that direction of ‘not before me’ had to be transferred to other lawyers.

As you would have guessed by now, most of these briefs went to that milord’s juniors.

The clients were very happy.

The milord is no more. The three seniors who were his friends have also joined him in due course. His juniors, however, have now become ‘seniors’ in their own right.

They have a ‘roaring’ practice.

The Leaflet