ARGUABLY the greatest asset in any litigator’s chamber is an ‘adjournment specialist’.
I have used the sophisticated phrase we use on the original side of the Bombay High Court. On the appellate side, they are simply called ‘date-taking juniors’.
This species is greatly in demand as they cannot proceed beyond that stage. Therefore, they pose no threat to anyone who hires them as junior colleagues. No chance of them running away with their employer’s clients and commencing independent practice.
The anecdote I share today is about a very reputed and much sought after counsel whose speciality was to manage an adjournment even in seemingly impossible situations and before hostile milords.
This counsel was a freelancer. A gun for hire available to anyone who needed his services only for the purpose of seeking adjournments. Understandably, he was always much in demand.
I still remember the day when he had managed to get an adjournment for a big firm of solicitors in a high-stakes matter specifically fixed for final hearing at the admission stage.
The judge was none other than our redoubtable Justice Irascible. He had made it clear that no one should seek any adjournment in that case listed for hearing and disposal and the matter would be heard.
Unfortunately, the lead senior counsel for the petitioners had to rush to the Supreme Court for a day and requested the attorneys to somehow get the matter ‘stood over’ to the very next day.
This would not have been difficult in the normal course and any competent junior could have made the request and succeeded in getting that ‘accomodation’. In such cases, opposite sides typically ‘cooperate’ as it is a reciprocal arrangement. ‘Professional courtesy’ is what it is called. It is very rewarding.
Once everyone knows that the case is going to be adjourned by consent, every junior counsel makes it a point to attend that ritual and ensure that his appearance gets marked on the roznama.
These ‘priests’ have to be paid even if the ‘puja’ is postponed because they had all come ready to chant their mantras.
In fact, because such cases have been fixed in advance, the junior counsels refuse so many other lucrative briefs. These august values of professional etiquette are not taught in books and law-schools.
They are imbibed by devilling in the chambers of those who have been a part of the glorious tradition of our great Bar. Some jealous people call the lane next to our high court ‘Fleece Street’ but that is not a proper description.
To get back to the story…
No one was willing to appear before Justice Irascible and ask for one day’s adjournment not only because of the stage and the background of the case but more so because Justice Irascible wielded his tongue like a whiplash and would insist on whoever appeared going on with the matter.
The attorneys were in a big fix. They realised that only one person could manage it. The adjournment specialist counsel. Let’s call him Taareekh Shah. They went running to his office.
Tareekh Shah heard them out and said it was going to be very difficult because Justice Irascible was a ‘no adjournment’ judge. He had once announced that in his court only death was a valid reason for an adjournment. Either the lawyer’s death, his client’s death or the judge’s death.
Tareekh, however, agreed to take on the challenge on one condition: The client must agree to pay him for that date-taking appearance exactly the same fee as would have been marked by the senior who was pushing off to the Supreme Court.
They agreed. They had no choice. The stakes were too high and there was no time to get any other top-notch senior ready in a day.
Tareekh Shah smiled. He said he would have to think and plan very hard throughout the night but yes, tomorrow he would somehow get them a day’s accommodation.
Once this match-up of Justice Irascible versus Counsel Tareekh Shah was finalised, word spread like a forest fire in the Bar room and Justice Irascible’s courtroom was jam-packed the next morning in anticipation.
Milord was about to enter but there was no sign of Tareekh Shah. He wasn’t even responding to phone calls. The attorneys did not know what to do.
Just then the doorkeeper hollered “Silence” and Justice Irascible ascended the dais and assumed his seat.
After some miscellaneous mentioning, the specially fixed matter was called out. As other counsel gave their appearances, the judge realised that the petitioner’s counsel was missing.
He asked: “Who is appearing?”
The attorneys were in a fix.
The counsel for the other side volunteered: “We understand that Mr Tareekh Shah was to appear today.”
The frown on Justice Irascible’s face increased, “Then why is he not here?”
Just then, from the back of the crowded courtroom, came a panting voice: “I am here milord, I am here.”
Tareekh Shah was sweating profusely. He appeared totally dishevelled and short of breath. Justice Irascible asked him to sit down for two minutes and catch his breath before addressing the court. Tareekh thanked the judge and gladly did so.
Once he was on his feet again, Justice Irascible asked him: “What are your instructions?”
Tareekh: “To go on milord.”
Irascible J. looked surprised, “Well then, what stops you?”
Tareek: “My brief is in my car and without it and my notes, I cannot argue.”
Justice Irascible: “Why have you not brought your brief to the court?”
Tareekh said if milord gave him ten minutes to explain, he would explain everything. Though he looked irritated, Justice Irascible was keen to know Tareekh’s story.
Tareekh: “Milord, it is so difficult to get parking. Although I was outside the court building half an hour ago, I could not get parking. So I parked right outside the sulabh shauchalaya.”
“As I needed to go to the washroom too and did not want to go to the Bar library and be late for this matter, I decided to avail of that public urinal as my car was parked right in front of it,” he continued
Justice Irascible was getting impatient.
Tareekh went on, “When I finished my job and came out, I noticed that a traffic police van was towing away my car! I ran after it to retrieve the brief and almost got run over in the bargain.”
“But I kept chasing the towing-van for half a kilometre to get the brief as I knew that milord had especially fixed the matter for hearing. Then I noticed the time on my wristwatch and realised that I must turn around and run back to the court if I was to reach here on time,” he pushed on.
“That is why I was in the state milord found me in a few minutes ago,” he concluded his tale.
By now, Justice Irascible was looking bemused. There was a hint of a smile on his usually sullen face, “I can keep the case back to enable you to go and get your brief.”
Tareekh: “I am much obliged, milord. But it may take some time as I must first find out where the policemen have taken my car. Only thereafter will I be able to complete all the formalities of paying the fine and getting my car back.”
“I am hoping nothing is stolen from it, especially the precious brief. Still, I shall try my level best to get back before milord rises for the day,” he submitted.
Justice Irascible: “I cannot keep waiting that long.”
As if on cue, the other counsel helpfully suggested: “It may be better to place this matter first on board tomorrow.” Tareekh enthusiastically supported this fair submission.
Justice Irascible now had a big smile on his face. “Will you be conducting this matter tomorrow also, Mr Shah?” he queried.
Tareekh: “I would love to, milord, but I have other important commitments tomorrow. However, I shall ensure that someone fully prepared attends and argues tomorrow in my place.”
What Justice Irascible told Tareekh Shah after this still resonates in the ears of those who were present: “As you all know, I never grant any adjournment. I don’t even believe the yarn you have just spun to get this matter adjourned to tomorrow, but I am granting your request because of the sheer novelty of the argument for an adjournment. Matter to stand over to tomorrow.”
The attorneys and counsel for all parties happily exited the courtroom. The impossible had happened. Tareekh Shah had extracted an adjournment from Justice Irascible.
In the corridor everyone showered praise on Tareekh Shah. He had once again lived up to his reputation. From that day, he was not just an adjournment specialist.