Bidding Farewell to Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi: The Artist Judge

His retirement has left an uncanny void at the bench which can never be filled because judges of his caliber are a rarity
Bidding Farewell to Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi: The Artist Judge
Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi

"Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending." - H.W Longfellow

After tirelessly serving the judiciary for 16 long years, Justice AP Sahi gracefully demitted his judicial office on 23 December, 2020. He had a stellar career where he had the opportunity of serving as a puisne judge of the Allahabad High Court and the Chief Justice of two High Courts (Patna High Court & Madras High Court).

Justice Sahi is a rare panjandrum, whose academic brilliance coupled with his visionary insight, helped him in conquering unachievable heights. He has a plethora of scintillating judgments to his name which immensely contributed in distilling and reshaping the jurisprudence of our country.

The fact that he was a voracious reader of literature is conspicuously visible from his authoritative judgments. He always used to lay stress upon the inextricable relationship between law and literature. He was of the firm view that the boundless bonhomie between the two is such that literature is helpful in depicting the harmonious process of life, which is carefully regulated by the majesty of law.

Leading from the front, he established himself as the "ne plus ultra" of a phlegmatic judge with an impeccable integrity and a razor sharp intellect. Socrates had famously remarked that four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly and to decide impartially. All these essential attributes were comprehensively evinced by Justice Sahi, throughout his entire career.

When he was the senior judge at the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, he directed the UP Government to consider renewing the licenses of the illegal slaughterhouses.

Expounding the wide sweep of Article 21 as a reservoir of numerous rights, he observed that the right to choice of food is an indispensable component of personal liberty. Food choices lie within an individual’s private domain which flows from their “life” and “personal liberty”, as contemplated in Article 21.

By bringing the right to choice of food within the celestial realm of Article 21, he included another star in its galaxy of rights and steered the way onto the path of progressive realization, of the rights guaranteed by our dynamic Constitution.

During his stint as a senior judge, he had also dismissed a Public-Interest Litigation which was filed against the name “Anti-Romeo Squad” given to a police force formed by the UP Government. He had quoted the classic passage from the famous Shakespearian play Romeo and Juliet and observed:-

“In Act II Scene 2 of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as authored by Shakespeare, Romeo recites, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet”. Thus, all this hue and cry about a name, having been used, has been raised without even referring to the context.”

As the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court, he had upheld a Government order which had asked the Leader of Opposition, Tejashwi Yadav to vacate the Government bungalow allotted to him. He neatly noted that such facilities are bestowed to elected representatives in order to enable them to efficiently discharge their constitutional duties and serve the will of the people.

While concluding his judgment, he reminded everyone about Mahatma Gandhi, whose shelter was the sky and the earth beneath, and how his strenuous efforts bore fruit in liberating the soul of our country from the shackles of colonial rule.

He had also presided over a full bench which held that writ petitions or a Tax Reference can be filed in Hindi, provided that they are accompanied by an authentic English translation.

Elucidating the importance of communication in the modern legal world, Justice Sahi emphatically noted that:-

"In today’s specialized professional world the legal professionals and the litigants expect that their concerns are transported and transmitted through effective ideas and expressions before a Court of law in a language that fulfills the duality of communication and clarity of understanding. The brilliance of any human expression emanates from the spark that is ignited by ideas, whatever be the language employed to communicate the same. This freedom of expression in the language of one’s choice is engrained in the Constitution."

While realizing the paramount importance of Hindi, as an official language he focused on the pivotal role of the English language in the legal profession. He held that English being a global language has a profound impact and has been vigorously used to train legal minds.

While championing the cause of Hindi remains a Constitutional aspiration, the importance of English and its role cannot be ignored in a multi-lingual democracy like India.

When in Patna, he had recommended reading an article by Richard Cutler titled “Is a Lawyer Bound to Support an Unjust Cause”? to lay emphasis on the onerous duties of a lawyer towards his client as well as the court. Judicial ethics lie at the heart of the legal profession, with judicial discipline and propriety, firmly embedded in its bedrock. This legal profession is the oxygen and the lifeblood of a lawyer and he must make all possible efforts to seek justice for his clients without failing to inculcate these holy virtues.

Likewise, during the ongoing proceedings of a matter in the Madras High Court, a junior lawyer prayed for an adjournment as his senior was not available. Justice Sahi told him that since he was arguing brilliantly, he should not wait for his senior. In this way, he firmly emboldened the junior lawyer, to fervently embrace the stage and proceed with his arguments. The newcomers in the Bar sincerely deserve such kinds of encouragement and upliftment in the nascent stages of their career.

His judgment in Union of India v. K Lakshminarayan is a locus classicus and a tribute to the cherished principle of cooperative federalism. This matter originated from a power tussle between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, over running the affairs of the State.

Laying the dispute to rest, he held that to successfully achieve the goal of cooperative federalism while upholding constitutional supremacy, both the CM and the LG should work in unison and not in division, within their constitutionally demarcated sphere of duty.

Both authorities should obey the idea of cooperative federalism, which besides being a fundamental tenet of a robust democracy, is also an indispensable part of the basic structure of our Constitution.

He also presided over the first bench which had imposed a heavy cost of 5 lakh on a lawyer, who had filed a frivolous petition, levelling false charges against the Registrar (Vigilance) of the High Court that she was not educationally qualified to hold her post.

He rightly reprimanded the lawyer for filing a plea, driven by malice and ill-evil with a brazen attempt to tarnish the image of the judicial system.

A strong message in the form of a well-know proverb that “too much of curiosity kills the cat” was sent out to the lawyer, in order to warn him about the consequences of damaging the edifice of the judicial system.

Filling the sketch of a transformative vision with the glorious colours of gender empowerment, Justice Sahi created history by constituting an all women full bench for the first time in the entire history of the Madras High Court, to hear and adjudicate on a matter concerning the application of Employees State Insurance Act of 1948, on aided and unaided educational institutions.

Such measures provide the visionary spark, which plays a pivotal role in achieving the goals of gender empowerment and participation.

In a last, a bench headed by him was called upon the judicial side to pronounce a decision on whether the actor Surya should be held liable for contempt for his scathing remarks against the judiciary. The actor had hit headlines for openly calling out the Courts, for forcing students to take the NEET Exams, while sitting behind closed doors and hearing matters through video-conferencing.

Just like the skillful hands of Michelangelo, he sculpted a beautiful balance by refusing to initiate contempt along with a staunch reminder that the judiciary was not in hibernation, even during the tumultuous times of the ongoing pandemic.

Notably, the Court reproduced data to demonstrate as to how cases were taken up and disposed of by the courts in the State, including the High Court and the lower courts.

Throwing light on the pertinence of judicial governance, he held that freedom of speech can be thoughtfully exercised to form opinions and stage a dissent, but it is germane to mention that the High Court’s power of contempt ingrained in Article 215 protects the process of judicial governance, from false and defamatory statements.

Quoting the likes of Lord Denning, he went to remark that:-

“It was not the job of a constitutional court to use a sledgehammer for the avoidance of something which can be perceived to be not capable of even being propped up as contempt, much less debated to the level of a criminal contempt.”

He is truly, an artist judge, having a sui generis style of authoring judgments, which showcase a great deal of sublime skills and a rational outlook towards resolving contemporary conundrums. The quintessence of a judge is weighed on the fact that how much reverence he shows, towards the idea of justice and its delivery, something which was marvelously mastered by Justice Sahi.

In his inaugural address on assuming the office as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, he had recalled: - better if justice is delivered from the heart, reason being that law is good – whatever is legal is no doubt just – but justice is better. He boldly remarked that the common man is unaware about the rigmaroles, the semantics, the jugglery or even the gymnastic catapults that go on in courts.

He only wants – what is known as the highest sense that one aspires for – and that is justice. If we sow the seeds in the form of our sustainable and perseverant efforts, the litigants are bound to receive the citrus fruits of justice.

He may have retired from the bench but his kaleidoscopic vision, illuminating thoughts and path breaking judicial pronouncements are immortal and will continue to inspire the members of the legal fraternity, to fight and strive for the unhindered delivery of justice.

His retirement has left an uncanny void at the bench which can never be filled because judges of his caliber are a rarity. As we bid him a fond adieu, it is felicitous to recall that among a variety of precious diamonds, there is only one Kohinoor, which in the present case, is none other than the Justice A.P Sahi. Behold the legend!

(The author is a third-year student at the Faculty of Law, Allahabad University)

(Apprentice Lawyer is accepting student submissions via this page)

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