(L-R) Advocate Shoeb Alam and Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade during the webinar
(L-R) Advocate Shoeb Alam and Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade during the webinar

"The common man or the small man has a Herculean task in reaching the courts of justice", Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade

The observation was made during a discussion on Naphade's professional journey, between Naphade and Supreme Court advocate on record, Shoeb Alam. The talk was organised by the RMNLU alumni association.

Meera Emmanuel

Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade on Saturday expressed his agreement with former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retd) Deepak Gupta on the view that listing of matters before the top Court is a matter of privilege.

Naphade added that if a study was conducted on this issue, focusing on how far cases by persons belonging to the lower socio-economic strata of society are listed before the top court, it would show startling results.

He opined that he is certain that this would be the case, even if the study is conducted on the basis of reported judgments alone.

"... what Justice Deepak Gupta has said will appear to be justified. This is not a malaise which affects the Supreme Court alone. This malaise affects the whole society - whether it is a hospital, educational institution or whether a lawyer’s office. The common man or the small man - he has a Herculean task in reaching the courts of justice”, Naphade said.

The observation was made during a discussion on Naphade's professional journey, between Naphade and Supreme Court advocate on record, Shoeb Alam. The talk was organised by the RMNLU alumni association.

To illustrate the malaise characteristic of the Indian justice administration system when it comes to the listing of cases, Naphade spoke of a case where a death row convict was found not guilty after 16 years of imprisonment.

"Our administration of justice is a source of despair."
Naphade added.

In another case, Naphade recalled that a death sentence case where an SLP was dealt with by the Supreme Court with one line: "Dismissed." On review, death sentence was set aside, although the conviction remained.

However, regardless of such issues of case-listing, Naphade opined that once the case comes before the Court, not many judges would shirk from looking into the case if an appropriate approach is adopted and the true position of law is presented.

Responding to a question on his thoughts on the public perception that the Court is different while dealing with sensational/ high-profile matters, Naphade opined, "the high profile matters do make an impact but that does not mean that the small man’s matter does not make an impact once they come before the court."

On a related note, he pointed out that the problem often lies in the fact that poor people are not often properly represented. With reference to the Supreme Court, Naphade said,

“I find these days that SLPs are drafted mechanically. They just take up something from the High Court paper book and the grounds before the High Court and then they just put it there. A substantial part of the blame also lies on our shoulders.”

He also noted that an issue that continues to plague the Supreme Court is the filing of unnecessary litigation that has no substantial legal questions for the top court to decide. In this backdrop, Naphade commented,

“Now the Judges have to read for Mondays and Fridays 50-60 such matters which do not contain a semblance of law - what do you expect would happen to the institution? Good matters get affected. The judges are also human. Some matters are then not noticed by the judges."
"We must learn to put our house in order. We should tell the client 'ki is mein kuch hona nahi hain ('there is nothing in this'')’. If he still persists, file it. You are helpless. But give him honest advise.”
Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphade

Be sure of the fundamentals of law, Naphade's advise to young lawyers

"You must be sure about your fundamentals", Naphade advised young lawyers.

While recalling his early days of legal practice, he remarked, "Right from the first day of my practice, I had a great desire that I must be familiar with all branches of law… "

To explain further why it was more important to prioritize learning the fundamentals of law, rather than cases or legal precedents, Naphade pointed out,

“The Supreme Court has a great tradition of changing its mind on such frequencies, if you see the number of occasions on which the Supreme Court has overruled, dissented, distinguished its own judgments - it is almost difficult to keep track. But If you’re sure of your fundamentals, you will never lose your track in law.”

He added that it was also important that lawyers familiarise themselves with the connection between various statutes.

He also recalled a suit that had been pending before Court for 20 years, only to have it come before the judge who had drafted it while he was a lawyer, and from which the judge promptly recused when it came before him.

"That suit pending for twenty years dies a death in a moment because Supreme Court changes law. This is the tragedy of Indian litigation. Can you imagine that suit which has been pending for 20 years comes to an end abruptly, and is then is started all over again?" Naphade observed.

Being in High Court library one of biggest capital assets, Naphade

The webinar also saw the Senior Advocate discuss his professional journey, which included his initial years at the Bar. Naphade informed that he was initially inclined towards politics, which was also the reason why he got into law.

"The only profession that was workable was being a lawyer. I also thought that by being a lawyer, you get a better perspective", Naphade recalled. However, he added, "Later on I got disillusioned with politics for many reasons. I gave up the idea of being in politics within a couple of years… So this was my entry into this profession.

Being from a non-legal background, Naphade also spoke of how it was difficult in the early days of his legal practice. The search for a good senior lawyer apart, Naphade also recalled that he had very little resources to begin his practice.

"I distinctly remember when I got enrolled in the Bar Council, the first problem was to pay Rs 250 of registration fees. So my one brother fronted 250 rupees for registration. After registration, you need a coat and gown. Another brother sponsored that. This was my capital", Naphade said.

The books in the High Court library also became capital in due time. Naphade informed that during the start of his legal practice, he did not own a single book that was his for the purposes of reading law. However, he told the gathering of how perseverence in reading library books served to help him over time.

"I used to sit in the Bombay High Court library, which is very well stocked. Of the old English judgments, Indian judgments, very standard textbooks, US Supreme Court reports. I just kept on reading. Initially, it was so difficult to understand because you are not familiar with that branch of law… But if you persist, something percolates and then your brain gets attuned to this kind of percolation and this process becomes faster. Being in the High Court library was one of my biggest capital assets. That solved my problem of buying books.”

Other topics touched upon during the talk included professional ethics and the need to aid lawyers struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the latter issue, Naphade opined that such lawyers can be helped through contributions by senior lawyers or by special statutes, so that young lawyers are not forced to bring out the begging bowl, which, Naphade remarked, was not consistent with their dignity.

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