Judicial Relativity

December 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Justice Markandey Katju never fails to raise a ruckus.

Soon after the wikipedia-citing revelation on what exactly a live-in relationship means, we are forced to brace ourselves for another shocker – that all is not squeaky clean in the Allahabad High Court.

If you say so, Justice Katju.

The Case in question is Civil SLP No. 31797 of 2010 [Raja Khan vs.U.P. Sunni Central Waqf Board & Anr.], where the facts of the case are entirely irrelevant to the controversy. Really. It’s like when you were a kid : your Mom was upset with your Dad and then you would knock over a vase and get lectured on how evil your Dad’s sisters were. Suffice it to say that some lower Court passed some absolutely inane ruling which then came before the Supreme Court. Let’s get straight to the actual paras written under the hand of the Apex Court:

“We are sorry to say but a lot of complaints are coming against certain Judges of the Allahabad High Court relating to their integrity.  Some Judges have their kith and kin practising in the same Court, and within a few years of starting practice the sons or relations of the Judge become multi-millionaires, have huge bank balances, luxurious cars, huge houses and are enjoying a luxurious life.  This is  a  far  cry  from  the  days  when  the  sons and other relatives of Judges could derive no benefit from their relationship and had to struggle at the bar like any other lawyer.

We do not mean to say that all lawyers who have close relations as Judges of the High Court are misusing that relationship.  Some are scrupulously taking care that no one should lift a finger on this account.  However, others are shamelessly taking advantage of this relationship.”

I’ve read the Order a few times and I can’t find any mention of any of the Lawyers appearing in this matter to be related to any sitting Judges of the Allahabad High Court. Be that as it may, the Judgement does raise an important issue. Should the children of sitting Judges be allowed to practice in the same Court, albeit before different Judges?

If it’s Latin, it has to be the Law. Nemo iudex in causa sua. No man can be a Judge in his own cause. “His cause” also involves the cause concerning a person’s near and dear, so ignore your recollection of that Sunny Deol film in which his father is a Judge and presides over his son’s trial and ends up hanging himself. (By the way, was that judgemental or what?) Right now, the position is such: children of Judges are not allowed to argue matters before their own parents. At least in Court.

This poses a lot of issues. Suppose my chamber colleague is a Judge’s kin, and we’re working on a Case together. The matter comes up before my colleague’s mother. Is it enough that my colleague stays off the case? Why just lawyers who are children of sitting Judges? What if I am working for Infosys, and a matter in which Infy is a Petitioner comes up before my father, a Judge? Aren’t we making a presumption against the integrity of Judges here?

I’m not a big fan of Justice Katju rulings, and certainly do not approve of the manner in which the present observations were made, but try as I may, I can’t help agree with him.

In the legal profession, there’s a lot of angst over being a “star kid” or not. And yes, most of the “star kids” are Harman Bawejas and not Hrithik Roshans. So I can understand Justice Katju’s surprise at the success of these 2nd generation lawyers. That also means that I, being from a non-legal background, am not really a neutral commenter on this practice. But sometimes I wonder – I hear stories of all the kids of Judges staying in the same housing colony growing up together and visiting each other and being on great terms outside the Court – and then they all join the Bar. So do they all become strangers now? Does xyz uncle suddenly become His Lordship? What do they talk about when they’re in the same lift?

Jokes and random speculation apart, @avinchhangani is right. “It’s not enough to ensure that members of a judge’s immediate family do not appear before him. They SHOULDN’T practise in the same court.” Sure, this amounts to punishing Children for the success of their parents. And perhaps solutions, such as transferring Judges to different States once their Children enroll in the same State, are a bit harsh. Cynics would say that in today’s day and age of instant communication, it would take very little for Children to then become contact points to manage the Judiciary, wherever they are. And yes, I know of at least one lawyer, who is the daughter of one of the most upright Judges in Mumbai today, who derives no benefit from her father’s powerful position. But even she would admit that she was the exception, and hardly the rule.

Ultimately, however, and excuse me for reverting to dramatic legal phrases, but  not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.

At least, it must be seen to be done.

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