Born on April 24, 1960 in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, Justice V Parthiban was elevated as a judge of the Madras High Court in October 2016. .While initially reluctant to accept the elevation considering that he would have just five years on the Bench, Justice Parthiban went on to deliver some landmark judgments. In his 2019 verdict, he suggested that the definition of 'child' under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) be redefined to decriminalise consensual sexual activity and relationships involving those who were 16 or older.Known for integrity, Justice Parthiban refused to move to the official accommodation for judges after his elevation and continued staying at his modest rented house in Chennai's Anna Nagar. With no social media accounts and no interest in the digital realm, Justice Parthiban doesn’t own a smart phone.When he is not working on arbitration, Justice Parthiban spends his time in his study, reading and writing. He casually quotes Neruda, Kant, Machiavelli and Gandhi, all in one conversation..In this interview with Bar and Bench’s Ayesha Arvind, Justice Parthiban talks about the flaws in the system of appointment of judges, why the culture of Senior Advocates should be done away with, and more..Edited excerpts follow..Ayesha Arvind (AA): Tell us about your early years..Justice V Parthiban: I grew up in Chennai. I can tell you that I was never a very serious student in school. I used to be fairly relaxed. In fact, it is something that I would like to tell all students. You should not take anything too seriously. You must know that one’s personality development is not completely dependent on one’s academic brilliance.For example, take the subject of law. How does it matter whether you scored 90 marks or 70 marks in law college? When you come to practice, it is a different ball game altogether. So, classroom study is not everything.My parents never put any pressure to perform a certain way in academics. I lost my mother when I was in 7th standard. So, while my father was at work, my siblings and I used to manage the household. We took care of each other, and we used to cook and share all the household chores. My two sisters, my brother and I realised very early that there is no work that only a man can do or that only a woman can do..AA: Was studying law a conscious choice for you?.Justice Parthiban: Yes, of course. It was a very conscious choice. Initially, I wanted to study medicine because most of my cousins were doctors, but I realised soon that it was not for me. Four of my college friends and I also prepared for the civil services, but on the night before the UPSC exam, we got into a discussion about whether we wanted to serve politicians and become yes men. So just like that, we decided against writing the exam. I thought I should choose an independent profession and realised law was the right choice for me, considering that I was always questioning everything around me. I felt a law degree would embolden me and give me that extra fillip to help me fight against injustice and whatever was wrong in the system.Also, law was the only professional course at that time that you could gain admission into very easily. You didn't need to score astronomical marks to get into law college. You could just walk into a law college and get admissions. One could not do that in engineering colleges, for those were reserved for the smart ones..AA: And what was your time at the law college like?.Justice Parthiban: I completed my law degree from the Government Law College in Madras. I was smart in the sense that I never flunked in any of my exams there. But I spent a lot of time reading stuff other than the prescribed course material. But I would like to talk about my time at the Madras Christian College (MCC) in Chennai, where I studied for my undergraduate degree before I enrolled for law. I studied English Literature at MCC. And whatever I am today, I am because of the four years I spent at MCC. I owe my entire personality to MCC. I do not think there was any other institution like MCC, except maybe St Stephen’s College in Delhi University in the 1970s.At MCC, I was very casual and I could afford to be so, because I was not a science student. I was on the debate team, I was part of the cultural team, I was a marathon runner in College and I even stood for the student union elections and won as the non-resident representative by extraordinary margins. I started the campus magazine 'Outburst' with my friend, and it gave space to anyone who wanted to freely express their views.MCC was a very democratic and a permissive institution. We had students from the North-Eastern states of India, from Kerala, Karnataka and even Sri Lanka. It is a huge campus surrounded in greenery and men and women studying there could move around freely, smoking, having a cup of tea or coffee, and have an intellectual discussion on any topic under the sun. My friends quoted Kant and Hegel casually in their conversations because we used to read so much..AA: In 1986, you started your practice with Row and Reddy..Justice Parthiban: Yes. In January 1986, I started my practice. I joined Row and Reddy, one of the oldest law firms in the country, which was known to fight for labour laws. Advocate NGR Prasad was my senior.At that time, the administrative tribunals came to be established under Article 323 for the very first time for alternative disputes resolution or for service disputes. From day one, I was sent to the Central Administrative Tribunal. Once there, I realised that though service dispute resolution constituted 30 percent of all legal disputes, it had never been taught formally in law college. So, I had to begin from scratch.By appearing day in and day out in front of the tribunals, you automatically become an expert and you don't need great scholarship to do that. What is important is that you keep practicing, you must know many precedents. By experience and by constantly reading, can you become an expert. You have to read to be able to advise your clients right. In 1989, I left Row and Reddy and joined the law firm Paul and Paul as an associate. I subsequently became a partner there and stayed until my elevation to the Madras High Court in 2016..AA: Given a choice, would you have done things differently?.Justice Parthiban: I wanted to be an out and out constitutional lawyer. I had a deep flair for constitutional niceties, and initially, I used to feel that service matters were not really challenging my intellect..AA: What kept you going then? Do you have any advice to give to young lawyers who might end up practicing in an area that was not their first choice?.Justice Parthiban: Throughout my practice, one thing that I lived by is being honest and giving respect. We used to tell all our juniors at Paul and Paul- and this is good advice for all advocates, young or old - to give respect to the judges and to the other side in a matter, and to never ever try to conceal anything from the court.Do not ever mislead the court. Never try to win a case by being oversmart, by concealing, or by giving a slanted version of your case. It still happens in 95% cases. But, a judge can always discern it.Unfortunately, honesty and being respectful and ethical are all exceptional practices today, unless of course, in cases where seniors have groomed their juniors very well.Someone said that when the competition is between ethics and economics, economics will always win. So that is what we have in the system today. It is very difficult to have a mind that is content and that poses a difficulty in staying ethical, in never overcharging your clients. I have never overcharged a client. I was still driving a scooter until I was elevated as a judge of the Madras High Court..AA: Let us talk about lawyers overcharging their clients. Is that rampant today?.Justice Parthiban: It is very common. Some advocates charge a certain amount merely because they enjoy a certain reputation. But when you overcharge your client, you lose charge of your advocacy. The client becomes in charge of your advocacy and your case.But of course, money is so attractive. Money gets you wealth and power, so you compromise..AA: What is the solution then? Can there be a pre-set fee bracket for advocates?.Justice Parthiban: You can't have such a system. But you must have a clear conscience in the first place and you must respect that conscience. One cannot draw a chart and tell you this is how much you can charge your client in a case. It won't work in a profession like ours.But you must realise that you can’t charge your client by what he or she can afford. You have to charge what you deserve. You can't define these things. All the time, you have to question yourself, and reflect on what you are doing. Somebody charges ₹75 lakh for their appearance. There are others who can't even make ends meet. But a set standard rate is not possible in the legal profession. You can't force a lawyer, as ultimately, the litigant will end up suffering. If you fix a certain amount and that, according to the lawyer concerned, is a pittance, they won't be honest with their work. They won't give it their 100 percent and then who is going to suffer? The litigant is going to suffer. That will be worse. That will be more unethical. You should practice self-governance. You talk about law being a noble profession. This is not a commercial profession. Clients come to you for something and you are servicing them. So, you are expected to charge noble fees.In Western countries, lawyers advertise. They use banners saying things like, “If you lose your limb, come to us...we are here to get you this and that.” In America, they are called ambulance chasers. Lawyers enjoy extraordinary status in the society because they have so much wealth. In India, the Bar Council Rules prohibit such advertisements. In fact, the Rules even say that your name cannot be displayed too prominently on the nameplate; there is a size that is prescribed.The higher you go, the worst it gets. For example, take the litigation cost in the Supreme Court. At least in the High Court, you still get the choice. There are some lawyers available for a reasonable charge and you can have that choice, but in the Supreme Court, if you want to be heard for more than a few minutes, you can't do without senior lawyers.That is why the Senior Counsel culture must go..AA: What according to you is wrong with the Senior Advocates being designated?.Justice Parthiban: A common perception of lawyers today is that if they engage the services of Senior Counsels, they get better attention and they enhance their chances of obtaining favourable orders.but, a healthy culture needs to be evolved where engaging Senior Counsels is meant to make use of their long experience and scholarship towards unravelling the complexities of cases and not for the sake of drawing attention of the Bench. The perceived culture of pandering towards Senior Counsels must be eliminated from the system so that young lawyers in particular, and the litigants need not be forced to engage a Senior Counsel in run of the mill cases.The system needs to develop confidence that the merit of the case alone matters and no extraneous factors influence its outcomes..AA: Tell us about your elevation as a judge of the Madras High Court..Justice Parthiban: My elevation was a matter of fate actually. I keep saying that I am an accidental judge, because some names were being considered and then the Collegium at the High Court led by then Chief Justice SK Kaul thought that I should also be recommended.Being on the bench was a great learning experience. What I could not learn for 30 odd years during my practice as a lawyer, I started learning on the bench. As a judge, you need to know various subjects.There is a vast difference between being a lawyer and a judge, because as a lawyer, you only present your own case; something you are an expert at. As a lawyer, you tune yourself to your own case because that is your truth. But as a judge, you have to impartially listen to both sides, understand the competing claims and come to a conclusion..AA: When the Collegium first asked for your consent for elevation, you had some reservations..Justice Parthiban: Yes, I was a little hesitant because I was already 55 years old at the time. I was afraid that I won't be able to do enough, as I would retire in just five years..AA: Do you think the current retirement age of 62 for High Court judges is right?.Justice Parthiban: At 62, a judge still has so much more to give. I also realised that I was shaping up well in the last year of my time as a judge. My judgments were getting better. I had more clarity. But by then, it was too late, it was time to retire.Extending the retirement age will be beneficial for the judges themselves and for the litigants. I think India is the only country that has such a low age of retirement for High Court judges. I say that for the sake of parity, make 70 the age of retirement for all judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court.As you grow older, the scholarship and education a judge gains and the experience he or she gains in adjudicating disputes keep getting better. It is extraordinarily beneficial to the public.This education and erudition should be used for a public purpose and not for arbitration.By retiring a judge at this age, you are only doing harm. It is a loss for the institution. Because as I grow, my knowledge as a judge assumes the proportion of wisdom. And one develops deep insights, but then one won't be able to use it for the institution because of the current retirement age..Look at former Attorney General KK Venugopal (who was appointed as AG in 2017 at the age of 86). Imagine the kind of mental agility that was expected of him at that age. And the government thought it fit to appoint him. Even members of the Bar are permitted to continue their practice without any age limit.If you have 70 as retirement age, then elevation at 55 or 60 also won't matter and by then the lawyer, will have practiced for 30-35 years and gained a lot of experience and maturity..AA: There are instances where one is elevated as a judge for a very short tenure. Just a few months, or even days..Justice Parthiban: These are the vagaries of the system that need to be addressed. Such elevations only add to the personal glory of a judge. These things need to be corrected but to what extent is that possible, only the institution can say. Both the judiciary and the government have to go hand-in-hand and sort all these things out.There is a need to fix a minimum tenure mandatorily, to uncomplicate the selection process and create a positive sort of an environment. A surgical response is required to fix these vagaries. One will always find that when there is a strong government, the corollary to it is a weak judiciary. But then, since the judiciary is also the citadel of last hope, some corrective measures need to be taken..AA: What is your opinion on the current system for appointing judges?.Justice Parthiban: I feel that for the higher judiciary, the whole appointment system is a mockery. Some good judges have emerged even from this faulty system but that is because of their own merit. In fact, I said once that for every good appointment, there are five disappointments. I also feel that always, there is just a handful of judges who are working hard, compensating for the lack of work that the others are doing or not doing. Some judges are just happily whiling away their time on the bench.There needs to be a radical change.You need to have proportional representation because India is a highly stratified society. These are larger constitutional purposes that obviously need to be achieved, but what happens in reality is that in giving preference to each sect, caste and sub-caste, merit suffers. Some become judges only because of the proximity with Collegium members.So many times, for silly reasons, a good name has been shot down by the Collegium. Good names have not been considered and bad names have been consciously considered despite complaints and despite Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports. It is because there is no objective evaluation of candidates.The selection process for judges is nothing but the epitome of arbitrariness. There is no objectivity at all..AA: What makes one a good judge?.Justice Parthiban: In my opinion, a judge who suffers from least prejudices is a good judge. I strongly believe that a judge should not try to pitch forth his or her own prejudices and pass them off as principles of law.One should consciously try to be an objective and partial judge, otherwise their judgment will always become lop-sided.We have seen often, in matters of Rent Control Act, that judges get labelled as a ‘landlord judge’ or a ‘tenant judge.’ Or, in labour matters, people often bracket judges as a ‘management judge,’ or a ‘labour judge.’ One should not get that kind of a label or name. Where is the question of impartiality and dispensing justice? A judge must have a completely open mind.The first thing that I wanted when I became a judge was to be an impartial judge. To go by the issue at hand and not get persuaded by who is appearing in front of you. And I also ensured that not one advocate, whether senior or junior, should go out of my court room feeling that he or she was not given a proper hearing.