Famous Judges, Lawyers and Cases of Bombay
Universal law publishing
This account of judiciary in the Bombay Presidency during the days of the Raj, surprisingly enough, is of absorbing interest not only to the men and women of the bar and bench but also to the lay reader. Reason: Its felicity of expression, innumerable anecdotes and relevance of many issues of those days to today.
Originally meant to be published as an official judicial history of the Bombay High Court, the book had a controversial start. Its author, Pherozeshah Bejonji Vachha aka PBV, was a firm believer that politics has no place in the “pure region of law” and that courts of law should observe “divine detachment which is the glory of law and the guarantee of justice”.
Premised on this, he insisted on incorporating a post-script objecting to the installation of a tablet of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the renowned nationalist in the very hall where Tilak was tried and convicted by a British judge. This led to the book no longer being the official one.
The introduction by Soli J Sorabjee, jurist and equally renowned as a columnist, adds and embellishes Vachha’s account — which is not merely a chronicle of legal affairs but a colourful story of the ups and downs of Bombay judiciary, right through the British days.
Many of the topics dealt with in this book bear stunning semblance to our current day issues and concerns — be it judicial activism, the executive-judiciary tussle, all-pervasive corruption, or the ‘Uncle judge’ syndrome.
On the conflict between the executive and the judiciary, Sorabjee, referring to a case, quotes a judge: “...within these walls, we know no equal and no superior but God and the King.” In today’s context instead of “the King”, read the Constitution of India. He also refers to another instance when Judge Grant exasperated with the governor’s hostile attitude took the extreme measure of going on strike with his entire staff. And not just that. The judge locked up the high court for five months!
The chapter on eminent judges including the then phenomena of Indian Civil Service officers being high court judges makes interesting reading especially in the context of their ongoing tussle with their brother officers on the executive side.
The galaxy of eminent Indian judges recollected include Mahadev Gobind Ranade, Badruddin Tyabji (who went on to become the president of the Indian National Congress), NC Chandavarkar, Harilal Kania (later the first chief justice of India) and GS Rajadhyaksha. The book refers to trials such as those of Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Malharrao Gaikwad, the then Maharajah of Baroda.
There is a moving reference made by Mr Broomfield, the judge, after he sentenced Gandhi to six years imprisonment: “If the course of events in India should make it possible for the government to reduce the period and release you, nobody would be better pleased than I”.
RN Mahadevan is a Delhi-based writer