Monday, 19 September 2011

A tribute to Justice Markandey Katju

One of the finest judges I have ever experienced in my career, he is that rare judge before whom no senior holds his face value and before whom no junior will ever lose his face. Yes, I am pretty new in the profession as per the standards set by the bar for a lawyer to be accepted as knowledgeable, but I am not new to the manner exploited by that rare impatient judge who does not acknowledge frivolous cases and throws it off with a curt "Dismiss". I even agree with the majority of my brethren that this particular judge was a little ruthless and did not even hear out the case made out by the parties and on his own accord dismissed it. But I do not agree with the notion that he was not a fairjudge, the word "fair" having been interpreted by each and every lawyer in his own words depending on the fact whether the lawyer is appearing for the petitioner or for the respondent. The reason for his harshness was to send out a message that "you cannot file frivolous cases in the Supreme Court and get away with it". A clear message that the time of the Court is not to be wasted. A clear message that was not very clearly understood by the majority of the lawyers and blamed the judge for being impatient adn ruthless.

He is none other than Justice Markandey Katju. A towering personality over 6 foot, he was one of the most feared and famed judge in the history of the Supreme Court of India. He retires today, ending a legacy and an era of quoting Faiz, Mirza Ghalib, Firaq, and numerous other well lknown poets and writers who were quite an influence on this knowledgeable judge.

One thing that was most interesting about this loquacious judge was that he never seemed to be influenced by the presence of any hi-fi senior lawyer. He was impartial and unbiased to one and all. Once, in a case Senior lawyer Mr. Mukul Rohtagi was to make an appearnace. The briefing lawyer, on seeing that the senior lawyer had not yet reached the court and the matter being called out, asked for a passover, which in plain language means to request the court ot call out the matter for a second time when all the matters in the list get over. Justice Katju enquired from the briefing lawyer as to why she is not arguing. She said Mr. so and so is appearing and that is why a passover may be given. The instant reaction of Justice Katju was "Ms. Counsel, let me tell you very frankly that there is no merit in this case. Whosoever may appear for arguing this case, it is made clear beforehand that this matter will be dismissed by us when it is called out again. Please let your senior counsel about this." This ourightness instilled a deep respect for him. He was not the one before whom the face value of any senior would work and he was not the one before whom any junior would lose his face.

He also used to enjoy a lot in the Court with his innumerous quotes and sayings and hindi updesh which was very evident when one day he asked of noted lawyer and jurist, senior Nariman (Fali S. Nariman), "Do you have a matter or are you here to watch the fun?". The whole court exploded in laughter and senior Nariman wittingly replied "To watch the fun, Your Lordship". That was the kind of repute the judge had.

His another quality was to speak out in Hindi whenever he got an apporutnity to. He was not the one to be deterred by the English speaking lawyers babling on and on about their case. English being the official working language of the Court, lawyers and judges alike were supposed to converse in English, but Justice Katju was an exception. He made use of every opportunity to attack in hindi the bechara lawyer arguing before him. It was fun listening to him in Hindi. Maybe his roots had a great influence on him. Maybe he was more comfortable in speaking out his mind in Hindi. But you never know. I was just wondering of the time when he sat in the High Court of Madras as Chief Justice.

His love for subjects such as Urdu and sanskrit is evident from the numerous famous judgments he wrote where at the start he quotes poets like Faiz, Firaq and Mirza Ghalib. His interests in literature is evident when he time and again quotes Shakespeare and Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens and many others in his judgments and orders.

He was a judge who was very lenient towards prisoners who had spent long time in priosns for small crimes. He was also a judge who was very strict when it came to murderers and serious criminals.

To be contd...