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Sanjeev Prakash Sharma is a Senior Advocate of the Rajasthan High Court. In 2011, the Jaipur-based lawyer became the youngest advocate to be designated. In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, SP Sharma talks about his early days of practice, new trends in the Jaipur Bar, transparency in judicial appointments, and more.
Aditya AK: Why did you choose to do law?
Sanjeev Prakash Sharma: I took it by way of choice, even though there was nobody in my family who was in the legal profession. We had a function for the 25th anniversary of the Bar Council of India. So, in that, for the first time they initiated moot courts, in 1986. So, I represented our university in that moot court competition. That created an interest in me and I asked myself, ‘Why should I not take up the legal profession?’.
So, then I looked up the number of a very senior lawyer, Mr. Jagdeep Dhankar, who is a designated Senior Advocate now. I joined his office. He said, ‘Listen, for six months you just keep on looking around, whether you are really interested in this profession.’
So, before I had even worn my gown, I used to sit in the courts. I observed how the lawyers would answer when the judge would ask questions, whether they had knowledge about the subject or not. What I could understand was, that it is not only knowledge of law which matters. You must have knowledge of facts as well as you must have command of the law, relating to those facts. I remained with Mr. Dhankar, till he became a Minister in Chaudhary Devi Lal’s cabinet. And then I shifted to Mr. (Justice) GS Singhvi.
Aditya AK: How was he as a senior?
SP Sharma: Oh! Marvelous. I continue to follow his advice. I get up every day and begin my day by saluting him. He has been so kind enough to give me advice whenever it was required.
Aditya AK: It must’ve been difficult to start off with no legal background in your family.
SP Sharma: It was a very trying time. Actually, you know, I had no money in my pocket. And for two years I had no cases! I knew that the profession has a very big gestation period. Some people say, in doctors also there is a gestation period now. I find that it is much more in our profession, because we don’t have any advertisement system. It is mouth-to-mouth publicity. Clients sit in the back row and watch you argue your case.
Sometimes, though they have engaged some other lawyer, when they see you arguing a case, they will come to you. So, you have to be very, very hardworking; you have to sit in the court and keep your eyes and ears open. And that is how a legal professional can really go far in his life. You cannot get there by way of reading books only. I have seen many lawyers who are intelligent, but are not street smart.
If you are sitting and talking to your client and having chai and pakodi, how will you learn? Till date I have never been to those thadis (tea stalls). Some people say that that is also a way of gathering clients, but I don’t think that is the correct way.
Aditya AK: What trends have you notice at the Jaipur Bar?
SP Sharma: We had a very orthodox system of practice earlier, where you used to work under your senior for years together. Otherwise, in other courts, any junior works at least for 5-6 years with a senior and then becomes independent.
In 2000, this trend changed. Now, young lawyers join a senior, stay with him for about six months or a year, and then they start their independent practice. And the reason is that everybody is in a hurry to earn. The demand and the pressure on an individual youngster today is much more than what it was in our times.
And then you look at sons and daughters of established lawyers. They have a practice behind them and their earning is much more in comparison to a youngster who does not have a legal background. So, for those with no background to be able to compete, is difficult. And that’s why they want to become independent.
Seniors are not paying their juniors well. This is a complaint which I find everywhere, whether it is Delhi, Calcutta, Bihar or Rajasthan. And some seniors don’t even pay. Even my senior initially did not pay me for one and a half years. He thought that paying makes the junior relaxed and that he will not work. But it was not that he could have not paid. He just had a different attitude.
Aditya AK: And do you have a different approach?
SP Sharma: I know all about the problems which my juniors face. I pay them well so that their complete focus is on their profession, and not on earning. Earning comes naturally as you become more acquainted with the profession. Once I find that a colleague has become matured enough, I ask him to leave.
Aditya AK: When were you designated as a Senior?
SP Sharma: I was designated as a Senior in 2011. I was the youngest senior at that time in Rajasthan. And it was not on my application.
At that time, Justice Arun Mishra was Chief Justice, and Mr. GS Bafna was our Advocate General. He himself was not a designated senior, because from 1992, there had not been a single designation in Rajasthan.
So, I was arguing one matter, pitted against Mr. Bafna as AG. And at that time, I casually mentioned to the Chief Justice that it’s unfortunate that our High Court does not have enough Senior Advocates. I also mentioned that our Advocate General had not been designated and that something should be done about it.
And then, Mr. Bafna came in, and Justice Mishra told him that I had been saying something. He said, ‘I feel that Mr. Sharma is saying this for his own good self also.’ (laughs).
I believe he must have remembered that incident, because in a Full Court meeting, one of the judges mentioned, at his instance, that I should also be designated. So they rang me up and told me that I must accept it. And so I did.
Aditya AK: Why didn’t the High Court designate seniors back then?
SP Sharma: Somebody has to initiate the process! And the agenda for the full courts are always signed and put up finally by the Chief Justice. So, the concerned Chief Justices did not do it, though they should have! Seniors who were designated along with me were having practice of more than 30-35 years!
Aditya AK: There is a perception that there is a lack of transparency when it comes to judicial appointments.
SP Sharma: See, the process of elevation of a judge is totally different from that of any other appointment. It is not an appointment as such, it is a nomination. The post is a constitutional post; you can’t equate it with any other government post. The persons who nominate judges are judges themselves. They know what the vagaries of being a judge are.
Day-in, day-out, they find lawyers arguing before them. So, if the selection has to be made from among lawyers, let the judges have that power. You can’t be asking why they chose ‘A’ and why they did not chose ‘B’, because it depends on perception. And perception cannot be written. If it was a service – like National Judicial Service – then people could move applications and become judges. But you are not doing that!
Transparency, of course is there amongst the judges. They discuss with each other and need not tell it to anybody else. You have given the responsibility to five of the senior-most judges; have faith in them! When it comes to your case, your building, your disputes, you take the verdict of the judge. But when it comes to selection, you are not ready to take it?
Now that there is a verdict that the collegium should stay, you can’t be going against it. A sitting judge [of the Supreme Court] thinks that there is no transparency. Does he want to publicize what he has discussed in Full Court meetings? In those meetings, you don’t only discuss appointments, but many other things, like appointment of Senior Advocates. If you have full transparency, tomorrow, someone may ask, ‘Why have I not been made Senior?’ Same is the case with judges.
Aditya AK: What is your take on legal education in Rajasthan?
SP Sharma: The state of legal education, not only in Rajasthan, but in India is pathetic. Clients do not know what to do in a particular case. If they are caught in a criminal case, they do not know what are their rights or their defenses, or even the penalty which they will have to suffer. Why? Because, in our school education, we do not have law as a subject. At least the minimum basic law like provisions of IPC, rights under the Constitution, have to be taught as a subject. If you want a good society, if you want a good citizen, he must be aware of his rights and duties.
But unfortunately, there is a presumption that everyone knows the law. How can you presume that in a society where almost 40% people are illiterate? It is a matter of policy for the government, they should look into it.
Aditya AK: Any memorable cases you can recall?
SP Sharma: One of the most memorable cases was with regard to reservation. The issue was whether there should be reservation in promotion. The judgment which we got from the High Court was followed by all the other High Courts also. There is no reservation promotion in even Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, but in Rajasthan it still continues. By way of an amendment, they again introduced it, and I have been arguing those matters.
There was also a case where a couple was separated, involving the daughter of an MLA who was a Muslim. Though the MLA would otherwise project himself to be a secular person, when it came to his own daughter he became very strongly Muslim. The boy was a Hindu. They were both afraid that they might be killed, so I took up that case.
At that time, many of my clients were Superintendents of Police (SPs). On one particular day, there was one SP’s case listed in the court. So, I called the couple to my place, and I called the SP also; he came in his vehicle. I suggested that we all go to court in the SP’s vehicle, so I made the couple sit in his Gypsy and produced them before the Chief Justice. The SP did not know who they were (laughs).
And the Chief Justice at that time asked both the lawyers to give an undertaking that they will protect the couple, take care of them and provide them with shelter. They are very happy now, and they keep on coming to me. Things like these are lifelong remembrances.
Image of Justice Chelameswar taken from Supreme Court of India website.