The book Tales from the Bar and Bench sets a new “benchmark” for wit and humour. Contrary to popular perception that all is “black and white” in the profession, anecdotes and incidents both from the bar and bench can easily qualify for the laughter show.
There have been doyens and legends such as G Ramaswamy, a former Attorney General of India, who was the resident wit of the Supreme Court and had a ready quip for all occasions. Many tense moments in long-drawn legal proceedings would end with laughter. Since one-liners also subtly communicate the point, they are an important arsenal in the lawyer’s armoury.
Let me recount a few instances which illustrate this point and are the highlight of this book.
A bench of five judges of the Supreme Court (a Constitution Bench) was hearing a challenge by T N Seshan, the then chief election commissioner, to the government’s decision to appoint a multi-member Election Commission. Arguments went on for several days; the relationship between Seshan’s counsel and the Bench was acrimonious. Summing up arguments, counsel ended by saying the government had one fixation, “fix Seshan”. The courtroom erupted with laughter, and the counsel also used humour to hit the bull’s eye.
Lawyers often use sharp wit and humour as part of advocacy to articulate their arguments — it is much like a cartoon, which as opposed to a long article or long arguments, captures the essence of the case. The author has captured such moments and thus raised the “bar” for humour quotient in legal proceedings.
Here are a few classics from the book:
As citizens, we expect judges to be upright. A famous Law Lord in England thought to the contrary. He had heard a case for a very long time and was slouched in his chair when a disgruntled litigant threw a book at him which just missed him. The judge remarked “Thank God, I am not an upright judge”.
A counsel was arguing that his client’s alleged hidden income was truly his winnings at a racecourse. One of the judges hinted that the client was not a respectable person at all, and said: “You do not know what sorts of people go to the races.” “If that is so,” with an innocent look the counsel responded, “I will never go anywhere near that place, where all sorts of people go.” He looked particularly at the judge who, it so happened was an avid race-goer. The senior judge then chastised the judge in a hushed tone but it was loud enough for members of the Bar sitting in the front row to overhear: “I told you not to say such a thing.” The lawyer’s remark was the winning stroke!
Cross-examination is an art. Getting the witness to toe your line is hard work and needs solid preparation. But cross examination throws up lighter moments as well.
A witness in Justice Darling’s court was being targeted during cross examination. The cross-examining counsel finally asked: “Do you still adhere to your statements in examination-in-chief?” Witness: “I certainly do; I have always been wedded to truth.” The judge interrupted, asking: “How long have you been a widower?”
In another case, a man who had accused a fellow passenger in a bus of having picked his wallet was being cross-examined. The advocate in cross examination spoke quietly with the complainant, won his confidence, and then proceeded: “Was the bus overcrowded?”
“Yes, there was no seat. I was standing all the time and so were several other people.”
“Were people standing around you?”
“Oh yes, next to me, in front of me, and also behind me. That is why the accused got the chance to pick my wallet.”
“There was such a throng around you that you could not move, you could not turn. Hence, when you felt your wallet was being taken away, you shouted, “Who has taken my wallet?”
The pickpocket had dropped the wallet as soon as there was a commotion. As the owner of the wallet had admitted that he had not seen the accused picking his pocket, how then could the accused be held guilty?
The complainant had not cared to keep any other eyewitness ready.
The accused got off scot-free!
An eminent senior counsel for the plaintiff in cross examining asked the defendant: “Do you not sometimes write, ‘not over a certain amount’, on the cheque when a blank cheque is given?”
Counsel for the plaintiff: “Particularly in the present circumstances, was it not a wise thing to do so?”
Counsel, now with greater confidence, asked: “Then why did you not do so?”
The defendant, a Gujarati, was quick to respond in the vernacular: “Bhabha sahib, if I had written what you sensibly suggested, you and I would not have met in this court. I trusted my friend.”
The book is worth a read (it’s better than watching a soap or a serial) as it will more than “humour” you the reader.
The author is an advocate in the Supreme Court
TALES FROM THE BENCH AND THE BAR
V J Taraporevala
Rs 350; 168pp