When the court is with you

An up-and-coming young lawyer was pitted against a seasoned senior in the court of the late Justice G.N. Vaidya, who was a no-nonsense judge feared by the Bar of the Bombay High Court for his acerbic verbal arrows aimed at unprepared counsels or their under-cooked propositions.

The judge was very sharp but it is said he had his preferences and biases.

As a result, some doyens of the Bar at that time avoided appearing before him as he enjoyed hauling them over coals in open court.

Surprisingly, the learned judge was quite supportive of those non-pedigreed juniors who were not from some respectable legal chambers or groomed by established godfathers at the Bar.

This story was narrated to me by the junior in this anecdote but much after he himself had become a senior citizen.

I personally never had occasion to see the late Justice G.N. Vaidya in action even though he had a considerable tenure of over eight years as a judge of the Bombay High Court. He passed away just before I joined the Bombay Bar in 1985.

I knew this judge’s name well because a road in South Mumbai is named ‘Nyayamurti G.N. Vaidya Marg’ and I crossed that road often on my walk to the Asiatic Library during my early days at the Bar.

But let us get back to the story.

It seems the newcomer was appearing for the petitioner and the seasoned senior was briefed for the contesting respondent in a final hearing.

As soon as the matter was called out, the junior got up to say he was appearing for the petitioner. The judge just glared at him and signalled him to sit down.

The reputation of the judge had preceded him. So the junior quietly took his seat.

The judge then turned to the respondent’s senior counsel and started peppering him with a volley of awkward questions. The junior was amazed that the learned judge had read all the pleadings already and was picking points which even he hadn’t thought of!

The senior counsel did not know what had hit him. He tried in vain to defend his client’s stand but that did not cut much ice with the judge.

The junior’s mindset was now like that of a spectator at the races who was about to see the horse he betted on going on to win the race. Succumbing to a natural human instinct he decided to cheer… well almost!

Watching his senior opponent writhing in agony at the judge’s punches, the junior advocate felt he could also contribute a few blows and kicks.

So he tried getting up to address the judge.

“If I may add something milord—”

“You may certainly not!” snarled the judge.

The dazed junior just fell back into his seat as if he too had received a blow!

Again, after completing the demolition job on the senior, when his lordship started dictating an Order allowing the petition, the excited junior, an obvious victor without a battle, tried to swing his sword in thin air by interrupting the dictation.

“Milord may kindly also see page—” he mumbled.

This time, the judge looked at him like a bull who had been gored.

He then venomously hissed something which not only shut the junior up for good at that time but made him remember it even after more than 30 years… as was evident from the fact that he was able to quote it verbatim to me.

This is what the late Justice G.N. Vaidya said to that junior: “Remember this forever young man. When the court is with you, silence is your best argument!”

The lawyer had tears in his eyes as he recalled this episode and narrated it to me.

He said juniors remembered the judge fondly because he often went out of his way to use his courtroom as a classroom to coach the juniors about legal etiquette with a view to improve the standards of the Bar.

No wonder that his alma mater, a college in Dharwad, Karnataka, has instituted an annual lecture in his memory and many legal luminaries have been delivering those lectures and lauding the learned judge’s contribution.

The Leaflet