One of my earliest cases, as a budding young lawyer in 2004, was referred to me by Mr.S.Prabakaran, albeit, for drafting alone. As President of the MHAA (Madras High Court Advocates Association) Prabakaran used to receive several requests from lawyers to help them out. If the lawyer possessed money or muscle power, Prabakaran used to take a horde of lawyers to the epicentre and fight it out through agitations, court-boycotts etc. If the advocate was an outsider, Prabakaran used to refer him to one of us to file a petition in court, and try to secure some respite.
The case at hand, was that of one Miss.Kavita, a pass-out from Salem law college, who was recently enrolled into the bar. She had the distinction of being an undertrial even as a 2nd year law college student and was charged U/s 307 IPC (for attempt to murder) R/w inter alia Arms Act. In other words, she was accused of rioting and opening fire on a rival group of gangsters. The media had portrayed her as a notorious rowdy.
I prepared a 100-page affidavit, over 500 pages of annexures, with around 30 respondent’s. The height of the brief, when presented in the registry was a little over my shoulder. I was surprised to see vibhuti, kungumam etc applied on the docket, and the petitioner told me that she had placed it before Goddess Kaligambal, offered puja and brought it for filing.
After getting it numbered, I handed over a copy of the affidavit to Prabakaran, and told him to argue for interim orders. I informed him that interim orders in this case would be automatic, provided he pointed-out that the weapon used for firing was shown to be a “TOY PISTOL – MADE IN CHINA”, both in the mahazar (Panchnama), as well as the sanction order of the District Collector (whose sanction is mandatory for prosecutions under the Arms Act).
Prabakaran, who seldom reads an affidavit, gave it to one of his colleagues, who went through a few lines, and told him that I had used unparliamentary language in the affidavit. Hence Prabakaran declined to appear, and as counsel on record, I had to argue the case on the next day.
When asked what was unparliamentary, Prabakaran told me that I had addressed the then SP Mr.Pon.Manickavel as a man who pastes posters on the walls. We laughed at his stupidity, since I had honourably referred to Pon.Manickavel as the poster-boy of Tamilnadu police.
On the next day, the case came-up for admission before Mr.D.Murugesan, one of the most sensible and decent judges that I have seen in my 15 years of legal practice. I can give that credit to only one more judge, out of the 100 plus judges, I have argued thence.
Murugesan was well-read, and had probably gone through the entire 100 plus page affidavit. As soon as the case was called out, Murugesan told me to read the 18th paragraph and asked me whether I stood by my allegation in para 18, which according to him was a remark against the judiciary.
When I replied, that I stood by every word of what was stated therein, Murugesan claimed that he would not grant interim orders, unless I tendered an apology and withdrew para 18. I declined to do so and justified the contents therein, with greater vigour. I pointed out that what was stated should have shocked the conscience of the court, and that he should initiate suo motu action since a 2-year-old baby had been sent to jail.
Murugesan’s response was a shocker. Instead of addressing my demand, he stated “If you don’t have faith in the High Court, don’t come to us” – As if the High Court was his ancestral property.
I said there is no question of an apology or retraction, and wondered where his arrogance stemmed from. Realising the futility of convincing me to retract, Murugesan bypassed me and questioned the petitioner who was standing next to me, as to whether she would withdraw para 18, if she was granted an interim order. Kavita agreed to the deal, and I was stumped.
Murugesan then told me that the Chief Secretary does not hold an independent portfolio and should be removed from the array of respondents. I had no problem with that, but I told him that, he was incorrect in his assertion that we should not come to the High Court if we did not have faith. “What was emphasised was not a question of faith, but of incompetence of the judicial administration”, I reasoned. He smiled it away, and proceeded to pass orders.
When I received the order copy, I learnt my 1st big lesson as a practising lawyer, that no matter how a boldly a judge asserts in court, he is still the greatest coward. This was because, for all the tall claims of “DON’T COME TO US”, Murugesan had stated in his order, that I had expressed regret and would file an affidavit withdrawing para 18. He also claimed that I had sought permission to remove the name of the Chief Secretary from the list of respondent’s.
What good is a judge, who does not have the spine to write what he says ? And instead puts it in the mouth of the one who rejects the view ? In due course, I learnt that almost all judges’ pass even adjournment orders as-if it is the lawyer’s who had sought time, even though, it is the judge who wants to adjourn the case.
What was more disturbing was Murugesan’s claim that the averment in para 18 would “DAMAGE THE VERY JUDICIAL INSTITUTION AS A WHOLE”.
But for Murugesan’s obsession with this judicial megalomania, coupled-with institutional phobia, he remained an otherwise sensible judge, till he was elevated as Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court in 2012, and is now the member of the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission). Till the day he left Chennai, he remained the last decent judge of that era, who commanded respect, despite several differences of opinion, so much so that even around 2011, I remember requesting a specially constituted bench of Shri.KN Basha & Paul Vasantha Kumar, to transfer a case that was being heard by them, to a more ‘sensible’ bench such as the one headed by Murugesan.
What is shocking is that, even a judge of the class of Murugesan, seen to be reasonable and sensible, if not wholly judicious, feels seriously offended when a finger of criticism is raised, and that too about the administrative side of the High Court, and not even its judicial side.
True, any other average judge would have threatened us with contempt. The collegium, (invented in 1993), which is nothing but an old boys club of conformists, has instilled this mentality, that no matter what you do, no citizen should even whisper about judicial administration or judges. Even if they receive bribes, harass women officials, or rape interns and beget children from them although they are in the age-group of their grandchildren (viz. between 30 to 40 years younger in age).
The rest, as they say is history – 22 years of supreme (in)justice, sans accountability.
But, Contempt, Yes, I would have flirted with it, even in 2004. The ban imposed by that wannabe judge D.Selvam has provided me plenty of spare time. Thank You Chairman Selvam, for the extra-legal vacation – you have enabled me to fulfill my literary dreams. I’m enjoying it.