Preferential treatment

IN my early years at the Bar, a regular role I had to play was to get cases adjourned or kept back in case my senior was preoccupied in other courts or legal fora.

On such assignments, much depended on the temperaments of the milords before whom I had to appear.
These ranged from the pleasant and accommodative to the rude and haughty.
It was therefore prudent to be prepared in every case to argue the matter if the request for accommodation was refused.

In those days there was a big, fat, grumpy milord who usually sat single despite his seniority..probably an indication of his “popularity” even with his brethren!

He was mostly very rude and non-accommodative to juniors.
They dreaded appearing before him.
Therefore, when my senior asked me to seek accommodation  from him in an important matter, I was not very certain about the outcome.

I voiced this concern to my senior.
He just smiled and assured me that there would be no problem at all before this milord because it was my senior’s vakalatnama which was on record.
My senior told me to just go and make the request.

On that particular day, milord was in a particularly foul mood.
He was ridiculing the unready and skewering even the ready counsel.
Juniors were condescendingly being ticked off as insignificant or irrelevant.
My hopes of being accommodated by this milord were looking very dim.

In due course our case reached and the court associate called out my senior’s name.
I got up, gave my appearance slip and mustering courage made the request for accommodation as directed by my senior.

I was in for a very pleasant surprise.
Milord was a very different person in our case.
He first inquired about me:
When had I joined my senior?
Where had I studied law?
Had I read the brief?
Did my client not need interim protection?

With new found confidence I told milord that interim protection was of course required but as my senior was on his legs in another big matter before a Division Bench which was likely to spill over into the next day as well, I was seeking the indulgence of having this case placed before milord on the day after.

Milord said he had read the pleadings and was inclined to grant our client ad-interim protection immediately and in fact proceeded to do so!
He then kept the case after a week and very politely told me that even if my senior was unavailable on that day I could attend and argue the same myself.
I could not believe my ears.
Milord’s transformation that day was nothing short of a minor miracle!

I was overjoyed to narrate the happenings of that day to my senior after court hours.
He, however, just smiled and took it in his stride.
After this, I experienced a similar thing happening in every matter before that milord involving my senior.
We used to get favourable orders even in tough cases without much exertion.
To me it gradually became evident that for some reason not known to me my senior was the beneficiary of preferential treatment from milord.

It was only much, much later after that milord had happily retired that my senior one day narrated to me a story which threw a lot of light on milord’s benevolent disposition towards all cases involving my senior.

It is a tale which can safely be shared now:

Those were days when my senior was a young, dynamic, bike-riding criminal court lawyer attached to the Chambers of a top-notch Gujarati barrister who was also a very well-connected politician and power broker in Bombay.
That Chamber had several competent juniors assisting the big boss but as far as police station level interventions were concerned, my senior was the preferred junior and go-to lawyer.

It so happened that on a rainy weekend, well past midnight my senior received a telephone call from his senior to forthwith go to a police station and get two detainees out of custody without leaving any trace of their detention on the official record.

The mission had to be accomplished the same night whatever it might cost to do it!
The big boss had already made a few phone calls and co-operation had been assured.
So it would not be a serious problem.
But one had to be very discreet lest some lurking reporter with a cop-connection latch on to the happenings and splash it as “news” the next day!
Top secrecy and extreme urgency were of the essence in this assignment.

My senior was used to getting such assignments from the big boss.
He got dressed, got on his bike, and was off..headed for the police station in question.

At the police station, on a bench outside the interrogation room, he saw two pot-bellied men huddled together with nothing on except their underwear.
Their faces seemed familiar.
But it took him a while to recognise these two gentlemen without their clothes on.
He had always seen them fully clothed in black coats and robes.
Both of them were Sessions Court judges!

They had been picked up as customers in action during a raid on a notorious brothel.

Upon seeing my senior they hugged him and broke into tears.

As the big boss himself had already made the necessary phone-calls and pulled the requisite strings, getting them out of police custody was not a problem for my senior..but their clothes were still at the brothel where they were apprehended during the raid.
And their wallets and identity cards were in those clothes.
If those fell into wrong hands, it would be curtains for ‘Their Honours’.
My senior, however, very efficiently used his contacts and expertise and organised their safe and timely retrieval.

By early morning, the decently clothed judges were dropped off at their respective residences with their reputations intact.
While the senior of the two took a cab home, the junior one was too shaken and disoriented by the happenings and was grateful for the offer of a ride home as a pillion-rider on my senior’s bike!
As he clung to my senior riding pillion on that bike in the cool breeze of the soothing dawn perhaps some indescribable bond of gratitude was forged.

In due course, it was that very bike-borne judge who got elevated to the Bombay High Court bench.

While he lorded over everyone else, that special bond forged several years ago was not forgotten by milord in my senior’s case.

By association, I too benefited from milord’s soft corner for my boss.

My senior had got milord out of a tight spot during his hard times.
Perhaps milord felt he should repay that debt by showing a soft corner even in our hard cases.