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In the third interview of senior lawyers in the Madras High Court, Bar & Bench speaks to Senior Advocate R Krishnamoorthy, one of the senior-most members of the Madras Bar. In this interview, the former Advocate General of Tamil Nadu, talks about the challenges of the profession, the entry of foreign law firms and how he manages to persuade the Bench to his point of view.
B&B: A few years ago, there was a violent incident within the High Court premises. What is your opinion of the incident?
RK: I was the President of the Madras Bar Association then. In fact when the incident took place, I was arguing a matter in the additional building. There was a lot of commotion outside and the judge abruptly stopped the proceedings. When I came out of the court, I saw policemen ruthlessly beating up lawyers.
I was spearheading the agitation that followed in the sense I was spearheading the cause of the unfortunate advocates who had been beaten very seriously. I collected about 15 lakh rupees over two days and distributed it.
B&B: But don’t you think the lawyers were also at fault here?
RK: Advocates would probably have uttered a few words but I don’t think that was sufficient provocation…. There was clearly something going on between the advocates and the policemen at that time, something that I am not aware of. What happened in the [High Court] campus was unprovoked.
B&B: Have you noticed any changes in the Bench since you joined the profession?
RK: Yes, there is a change, a change for the better I would say. Today, I think, judges are a lot more conscious about the surrounding circumstances; they know exactly what problems people face today. They are also very sympathetic towards the interests of people. There is a tendency to do something for those who are seeking relief against some wrongs.
B&B: Any changes in the Bar?
RK: When I joined, there were not too many lawyers. The legal profession was the least preferred profession; being a doctor or an engineer was given priority. But today, people are really interested in becoming lawyers.
Bar & Bench: What is your opinion about the entry of foreign law firms?
R. Krishnamoorthy: Today, we are going global and every country has many entrepreneurs who are looking to invest in other countries. Now, when foreigners come to India and invest huge amounts of money, they like to be guided by the laws governing both India and their host country. So necessarily they will need legal advice from their country as well as advise from Indian lawyers.
Foreign advocates do not appear in Indian courts. Therefore I don’t see any serious threat to the existence of the Indian lawyer or members of the Bar… I don’t see any serious problems arising with the entry [of foreign law firms].
B&B: How do you convince a Bench to see your point of views?
RK: See there are judges with different perspectives. Some of them are very tough while some of them are not that tough. Hence the psychological aspect is important in understanding a judge first. Sometimes you will have to go along with the judge’s way of approaching a matter and then slowly bring him to your own way of thinking. This takes time – you have to gain experience. One thing I have learnt is never provoke a judge. Sometimes judges might get a little harsh but they are also under a lot of pressure.
B&B: Going back a bit, when did you join the profession?
RK: I joined the profession in 1955. I can’t really tell you why I joined….I just thought that this is a profession where I can try my luck.
I worked with an extremely well known government pleader KN Veeraswami, who later went on to become the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. Later, I switched over to the Appellate Side and worked under KS Naidu, who was a fairly senior member of the civil Bar. I joined his office because I wanted a foundation in civil law.
After a couple of years, in 1967 I switched over to another advocate G Ramanujam who was a government pleader. I was with him for 2 years and got to appear before the court quite frequently. In those days, the government pleader would assign matters to their juniors as the number of government pleaders was quite low. I was asked to be in charge of matters listed before one court, so I got to appear on behalf of the State. I must say that the Bench was quite kind to us juniors.
B&B: And when did you start your own practice?
RK: In 1969, G Ramanujam was appointed a judge of the High Court and that is when I started my own practice. I did writ work, and worked on the civil side as well. In 1978, I was appointed as government pleader but held that post for barely a year and a half. I resigned from the post.
B&B: Why did you resign?
RK: Well, the atmosphere at that time was not very conducive. Not that I had any grievances against the government…..the remuneration was also not very encouraging in those times. So I started my practice again. In 1980, I was made Advocate General by the government formed by MG Ramachandran, a post I enjoyed till 1988. Then in 1988, Presidents Rule was imposed.
At that time, PC Alexander was the Governor of Tamil Nadu. Normally, it is a convention that when the government changes or President’s Rule is imposed, the Advocate General resigns. So I resigned from my office but then PC Alexander called me and said, “Everyone says that you are an impartial Advocate General. Therefore, you should continue.” So I continued till 1989 when elections were held and the DMK came into power. I then resigned from my office and continued with my private practice.
Then in 1994, the present Chief Minister, Jayalalitha J. asked me to take over as Advocate General. For some reasons she wanted to appoint me and I was the AG till 1996 when elections were held and [Jayalalaitha] lost the elections.
B&B: As AG, did you ever find yourself being forced to take a stance that you did not necessarily agree with?
RK: It is not a case of my personal perceptions about a case. Whenever the government is facing a legal problem, the AG is generally asked to appear for the government. Wherever we felt that there was no case, or it was a weak case, we would tell that to the government. And that was the end of the matter.
B&B: Why do you think the government faces so much litigation?
RK: Today, every executive action of the government is being questioned. Every piece of legislation is being questioned. Over the course of the last 50-60 years, the Courts have expanded the scope of writ jurisdiction, and provisions of the Constitution. It is no surprise that State litigation has increased.
B&B: Are you in favour of expanding scope of Article 14 and 19?
RK: Well, that is not for me to comment upon. This is what the Courts have said. I suppose it is for the benefit of the citizens. A citizen should have the right to question a government action on the grounds of constitutionality, arbitrariness etc.
B&B: But as an experienced litigator, do you think that the expansion has gone way beyond the original intent of these provisions?
RK: I wouldn’t say it has gone way beyond permissible limits because the interest of the citizens has to be protected.
B&B: What would you advise people who are interested in taking up law as a career?
RK: I always feel that many bright students of law are taken away by the corporate sector due to the sector’s attractive pay scales. I would advise these students to try the profession. Initially they might not be given the same amount of money [as the corporate sector] but in the long run, this would be a more interesting profession. Everyday you face problems, every day you try to solve someone’s problems – that is a challenge in itself.
B&B: Did you ever consider joining the Bench?
RK: Well it was offered to me but I was not interested.
RK: Well it just did not seem attractive to me for some reason. My personal perception is that I was not made out to be a judge; I always wanted to be a lawyer.
B&B: What do you like most about being a lawyer?
RK: Taking up a challenge and facing it is always an interesting aspect of an advocate’s career. In today’s world, the citizens are facing so many problems. When they come to the Court seeking redressal, we are always eager to do something for them. So that way, being an advocate is always an interesting and challenging task. This is something I always liked.
B&B: If your juniors make mistakes, how do you deal with it?
RK: Everyone makes mistakes. When one of my colleagues makes a mistake, I tell them, “My friend, this is not how you should have gone about it.” After all I always treat all the members of my office as part of my family. I don’t shout at them or discourage them.
B&B: Last question – You are known as one of the few people who is liked by everyone at the Bar. How do you manage this?
RK: (Laughs) I can only say that this is by God’s grace.
This interview was conducted in February, 2013 in Chennai. The previous two interviews of lawyers from the Madras High Court were those of Senior Advocate S Ramasubramanim, and Senior Advocate PS Raman.