Senior Advocate Anil Singh had a tenure of nine years as Additional Solicitor General (ASG), representing the Central government before the Bombay High Court..Singh was appointed as ASG on July 9, 2014. After three extensions, his tenure came to an end on June 30 this year, after he chose not to apply for an extension.In this interview with Bar & Bench's Neha Joshi, Singh speaks about his long tenure as ASG, the perks of being a government lawyer and what his future plans are..Edited excerpts follow..Neha Joshi (NJ) Tell us about your journey as a lawyer..Anil Singh (AS): During my college days, I attended college in the mornings and assisted my brother at his shop in the evening. After completing my legal education, I decided to start my practice. At that time, I did not have anybody to guide me as to which court I should start my practice from and I had nobody to refer me to a senior to guide me for the same. My school friends helped me during this time. Some of my school friends had referred a few matters to me, which I used to appear for regularly in the City Civil Court. At that time, one of the leading legal practitioners in the City Civil Court was Advocate Dinesh Gandhi. During one such hearing, he saw me arguing in court and later on appreciated my arguments. Upon hearing such kind words from Mr Gandhi, I immediately requested him if I could join his chamber. He asked me to meet him in his office. I regularly followed up with him for the next few months, and then finally, he agreed to take me as his junior in 1986.As time passed, I generated a sizable amount of work in the City Civil Court and the Small Causes Court. With time, I also started appearing regularly in the High Court, especially in the ‘appeal from order’ (AO) courts. However, during these days, I had to constantly struggle to make it on time for matters before the City Civil Court and the High Court. At times, my juniors were constrained to take adjournments on my behalf. One such time, when my junior sought an adjournment before the AO court, Justice Arvind Sawant, called me and in open court told me, “Mr Singh you have a considerable amount of matters both in the High Court and the City Civil Court. However, you will now have to select one court and stick to it. My advice to you will be that you must stop practising in the City Civil Court and shift your practice entirely to the High Court."The late Advocate Milind Sakhardande, who was present in court during this discourse, immediately called me to the library after my matter. He expressed his agreement with the suggestion given by Justice Sawant and suggested that I shift my practice entirely to the High Court. I decided to follow this advice. My senior supported my decision and that is how I shifted my practice to the High Court in 1996, at the age of 35. I did not appear in the City Civil Court even once, until I appeared as ASG in the Peter Mukherjee matter in the sessions court, which is in the same building..During my stint as a junior practitioner in the High Court, my path crossed with several stalwarts such as the late Bhimrao Naik, (former Bombay High Court judge), Justice AP Shah (former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court) and late Bal Apte (former associate Advocate General of Maharashtra and member of Rajya Sabha). These stalwarts supported me during my early practice days and I am grateful to them for all that they have done for me. Another person whom I must thank for his constant support and encouragement is the late SR Shah (former judge of City Civil Court and later a senior advocate of the Bombay High Court).Somewhere around 2009-10, some of my friends suggested that I had what it took to contest the Bar Council election. My friends told me I was popular, especially amongst the junior members practicing in the lower courts, whose matters I took up without bothering much about my fees and did many matters pro bono. As I had never contested any Bar elections prior to this, nor was I attending Bar functions, I was initially reluctant to contest the Bar Council election. However, Advocate Rajendra Raghuvanshi, a friend and then Bar Council member instilled confidence in me. I started campaigning for the same and visited several bar associations in Maharashtra. I recollect visiting around 90 to 100 such bars while campaigning for the election. That year, I won the Bar elections by securing the highest number of votes in Mumbai. I was thereafter unanimously elected as a Chairman of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa. I got my senior designation in the year 2012. Around this time, I was also approached for a judgeship. I contemplated the same for a while. However, I changed my mind after getting the senior gown..NJ: Tell us about your tenure as Additional Solicitor General..AS: It is difficult to compress 9 years of my tenure into a few words, but I would like to say that it was an extremely satisfying and enjoyable tenure. I am grateful for the opportunity and I believe I served my office to the best of my ability. I would also like to express my gratitude for the support I received from everyone, whether it be from within the government or fellow law officers, panel lawyers, lawyers on the other side, as also from the judges. Bar associations, as well as the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa, have also been cooperative on all fronts.I wish to make a special mention of Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta. He has been extremely helpful, guided me professionally and was a strong pillar of support at a personal level. I could reach out to him at any time, whether it be for work or personal reasons, and he would always be available. .Work-wise, to my mind, the experience is unparalleled. In Bombay, lawyers are largely treated as civil or commercial or criminal lawyers and tend to get briefed on such matters only. Being a law officer gave me the opportunity to appear and argue matters on all subjects, be it civil, criminal, constitutional, taxation etc. My tenure even gave me the pleasure of being able to appear before all judges and benches of the High Court. I also got the opportunity to appear before the High Courts of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. It was both a humbling and enriching experience.This office does bring its own set of pressures. However, as they say, if one enjoys their work, then work does not feel like a burden. While there were pressures of the stakes involved in the matters, the same was part of my office. I never felt overburdened by them. It was like the burden of any matter for a lawyer. A lawyer wants to do well for his client while being an officer of the Court. It is in the same manner that I approached the law office and tried to perform to the best of my ability. I do believe that there is independence, and there must be, since a lawyer is firstly an officer of the court and then a lawyer for his client. As a law officer, one must be fair to both - the court and the other side - and cannot approach a matter with a one-sided approach as it happens in private matters. Keeping this spirit, you will find that during my tenure there have been several matters where the government or the concerned department has co-operated with the court to ensure due justice is done in specific cases. .In 2015, when the then Advocate General (AG) Sunil Manohar resigned, I was given the additional charge of the AG’s office. This additional charge continued for around 6 months. That time, I had the opportunity to serve as an ASG, AG and also an elected member of the State Bar Council. During that time, I had to avoid appearing in some matters where there was conflict between the State and the Centre - particularly, the Adarsh scam matter, where both the State and Centre were staking claim over the land. .NJ: An ASG has selective appearances in court, maybe only for important questions of law. Did you see that change during your tenure? How did you cope with the rising number of appearances?.AS: Initially, the workload was limited. But with time, the workload increased as most departments insisted that the ASG appear in their matters. Further, during the COVID-19 period, when courts were virtual, it had also become difficult to get instructions from several departments and lawyers. That is why during this period, a large majority of briefs had to be handled by my office. It is true that during my tenure, the number of appearances of an ASG did increase. Here, I must add that I was blessed with a good team of lawyers. They assisted me in most matters and were a big support. They ensured that I got ready in the most complex of matters as and when required. The team includes Senior Advocate Pradeep Jaitley and Advocates Hiten Venegaonkar, Sandesh Patil, Aditya Thakker, Jitendra Mishra, Suresh Kumar, Shyam Valve, Ashish Chauhan, Shreeram Shirsat, DP Singh and Savita Ganoo. I also good assistance from my three deputy SGs from Aurangabad (Ajay Talhar), Nagpur (Nandesh Deshpande) and Goa (Pravin Faldessai)..NJ: Post 2019, there was a change in the State government and a visible Centre-State conflict. There were also cases involving Central agencies. How did your role change in this light?.AS: I would not like to enter into a political debate. It is true that there were cases that came from a change in the policy of the new State government. For instance, the issue of shifting the metro car shed from Aarey Milk Colony to Kanjurmarg. The new State government which came to power in 2019 had tried to shift the car shed to Kanjurmarg on land that belonged to the Central Salt Department, which led to litigation before the High Court.I do not believe it is my domain to speculate or comment on cases of Central agencies. As a lawyer, more so as a law officer, my role is to present the facts placed before me by the government. A lawyer does not create facts, he simply presents them to the best of his abilities. I believe I have done the same. My role and duty were limited to arguing facts as placed by the agencies before me and making sure that the case of the government or (investigating) agencies is duly represented. .NJ: Have you ever been faced with a situation where you found it unconscionable to argue a stand taken by the Centre? What does an ASG do in such a situation?.AS: Personally, I have always made it a point to appear in matters with a clear conscience. I update myself with the correct facts and laws prior to approaching any matter. I have not personally faced any situation and the matters that I attended to were done being fully conscious of my responsibility as a law officer..NJ: There was also a lot of media scrutiny and media coverage on such matters. Did it add to your pressure?.AS: An ASG’s office or any law officer’s office attracts media scrutiny, considering the nature of matters that are handled. Media coverage has increased on account of live-streaming and also because of platforms like Bar & Bench and LiveLaw, which report exclusively on legal issues, and live tweet arguments in court. It is not only the legal professionals, but the common man that can benefit from such reporting..The heightened media coverage does make one more conscious of what one is arguing. Having said that, as a lawyer, one must argue what the brief dictates. So while I was always conscious of the media coverage and scrutiny, it did not affect my work. But responsible reporting is the need of the hour. I do agree that some form of media coverage is important to ensure that citizens are alive to the legal battles that are taking place in courts..NJ: Rhea Chakraborty, Aryan Khan - two contentious, heavily scrutinized drug-related cases. What was your experience in these cases?.AS: The media coverage in both these cases was immense, and at times, felt unnecessary. I tried to handle them as I would any other matter. As a lawyer would say, I tried to stick to my brief and argue facts before courts as per instructions of departments at that time..A few of my other matters also gained a lot of traction and media coverage. One was regarding the police custody of former Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. .The sessions court had rejected the Enforcement Directorate's plea for police custody after the first 3 days. This order was passed on a Saturday evening. It was necessary for us to move the High Court urgently to seek an extension of police custody. We got working on it and moved the matter before then Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Dipankar Datta through the registrar. On a request, CJ Datta constituted a special bench to take the matter on the next day which was a Sunday. I argued the matter on Sunday and the order of the sessions court was set aside..NJ: Did you find any strain in your relationships with lawyers who regularly appear for accused, or against you?.AS: One thing I believe is that litigation is permanent. We fight tooth and nail in court, but once a matter is over in court, it is over. I have excellent relations with all senior counsel who appear for the accused - Amit Desai, Aabad Ponda, all of them. We meet over functions, dinners and interact. We have maintained our relations over the years. When you enrol as an advocate, there is a book in the curriculum: the Code of Conduct for Lawyers. That sets out how you should behave with your opponents and clients; what your demeanour should be in court. One has to maintain good relations with the entire Bar, with opponents also..NJ: In 2021, a controversy arose when Justice SS Shinde criticised lawyers appearing for the investigating agencies in Father Stan Swamy's case, but later withdrew those comments. Can you shed some light on the incident?.AS: I would not call this an incident in that sense. However, what did transpire was that Father Stan Swamy passed away in hospital when the Court was hearing his appeal for bail. Then Bombay High Court judge Justice Shinde happened to make a comment about the late Father when informed of his demise. On that being pointed out, the judge then himself withdrew the remark since it would not be appropriate..Judges are human beings too. I would say that the events that happened in fact show the humility of the judge. In fact, here I will also add that during my tenure, I found that judges of the Bombay High Court are humble and receptive. It has been and continues to be a pleasure for me to appear, assist and address the judges..NJ: Should there be a limit to judicial interference in executive work?.AS: The boundaries of judicial interference in executive work is not up for debate. It is an area covered by judicial precedents. The three pillars of democracy must perform their own functions. Considering this area is covered by decisions of the Supreme Court, there is not much I can add to this.In the door-to-door vaccination plea, I do not believe it was a case of judicial interference. The pandemic was playing havoc and vaccination was the only viable solution. The government was offering vaccination close to home and at that point, it felt that door-to-door vaccination was not possible. But the High Court felt that it was possible and should be done and accordingly, ordered it to be done. As a matter of hindsight, it would appear that the same in fact paved the way for the government to carry out door-to-door vaccinations across the country, which benefitted many citizens..NJ: Does nepotism continue to play a big role in the legal fraternity?.AS: It is clear to say that nepotism cannot escape any profession entirely. However, we come from a profession where mere nepotism cannot sustain the whole practice. Unless an advocate performs in his matters, he will neither get the relief desired from judges nor will he get adequate recognition from his peers..NJ: What is your take on the use of technology and artificial intelligence in the judiciary?.AS: The use of advanced technology and hybrid hearings is the need of the hour and the COVID pandemic has taught us this. Justice was accessible to every lawyer, litigant and party during that period merely because of the virtual hearings conducted by courts. We were at a nascent stage of putting technology into use during that time. However, this time, it is our responsibility as a community to put to use advanced technology to make justice accessible to litigants across the country. Switching entirely to virtual hearing is not a practical solution, as some matters require an advocate to come face-to-face with a judge for explaining the matter. However, hybrid hearing is definitely an avenue that needs to be explored in the long run. The experience of litigation in my opinion is not limited to arguing in the court room. Lawyers and students enrich themselves every moment when they are in the court premises. Mere casual discussions in the lobby are enough to enrich a young lawyer for his future practice. For instance, last year, around 13,000 lawyers enrolled at the State Bar. Every year, there are enrolments in such numbers. Every lawyer may not get good seniors, or they may not get seniors at all. Most seniors across the courts hardly have time to train their juniors. There is training which you get outside your classrooms and courtrooms - which is in Bar rooms and corridors. One can have a discussion with seniors on a matter that has been argued or to be argued. Some seniors may advise you or answer your queries in the Bar room. You can quickly consult a lawyer specializing in a subject. That helps. There is a saying ‘Bar is the mother of every lawyer and judge’. .This experience would be lost if we switch entirely to virtual hearing. Though physical hearing cannot be replaced by virtual hearings in its entirety, a hybrid system is also the need of the hour..NJ: Do you think lawyers representing government agencies require additional training?.AS: I do believe that periodical training is required for lawyers representing government agencies. There are several seminars arranged for guiding the panel counsel lawyers on what is required from them for representing the government. Efforts are being taken to instil a sense of responsibility in them for the statements they make on behalf of the government; or the legal stand they take in matters argued by them. I have been a part of and organized a few such training programs for panel advocates. Constant effort is being taken at the government level to revamp the system..NJ: What lies ahead for you after your stint as ASG?.AS: I have already returned to my earlier practice and am enjoying appearing for private parties. I continue to appear for certain government agencies who have requested me to appear as a special counsel. I hope to continue with my practice while simultaneously giving back to the profession and the cause of justice as best as I can. I will just be selective with my cases. It is just changing sides now! But I may not accept a brief against the Union government for some time..NJ: What is your advice to young lawyers aspiring to represent the government? .AS: My advice to junior lawyers is that if they get an opportunity, at least for a few years, they must take a brief for the government. Either as a prosecutor, a government pleader, or a Central government panel lawyer. One gets a variety of matters to handle, which is not easily possible in private practice. As a government lawyer, you get to work on civil, criminal, service matters and taxation matters. One gets to represent a number of agencies.