A Relationship Still Undefined : Remembering Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan

  • A Relationship Still Undefined : Remembering Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan

    “You don’t know how deeply you are intertwined with someone until they leave you” Writing an obituary about someone who was closely associated with your life is painful, especially when you are struggling to come to terms with their untimely passing. Therefore, it is difficult for me to put to words my thoughts about my beloved senior Shri. Thottathil B Radhakrishnan who was my pillar...

    “You don’t know how deeply you are intertwined with someone until they leave you”

    Writing an obituary about someone who was closely associated with your life is painful, especially when you are struggling to come to terms with their untimely passing. Therefore, it is difficult for me to put to words my thoughts about my beloved senior Shri. Thottathil B Radhakrishnan who was my pillar of strength and guiding spirit for nearly 24 years. Though life is full of uncertainties, the loss of Radhakrishnan Sir when he was 64 years old is unfathomable.

    I vividly recall my first meeting with him on 22nd May 1999 at his residence Sai Gayathri, when I, as a raw junior who was practicing in Mavelikara, came for the purpose of an interview to join his office. I am deeply indebted to Sri. K.K.Thomas and Late Sri. M.S. Usman, my esteemed seniors at the District Court Centre, Mavelikkara, who recommended and persuaded Radhakrishnan Sir to take me to his fold and permit me to be part of his office. Fortunately, he did not ask any questions on our first meeting, except that he just glanced through the copy of the Transfer of Property Act I was carrying. Later, I realized the risk of offering myself to face questions on T.P. Act from Radhakrishnan Sir whose knowledge in civil law is unparalleled.

    My period of tutelage under him was a transformative phase of my life, which instilled rays of hope in my mind to set foot on this glorious profession beset with great uncertainties. I still recall the nervousness and excitement I experienced on the first day in his office. I was provided a separate study table and chair, ready with a file board, pencil, pen and set of papers. Every arduous question I put to him had an answer. My puerile responses were never received with the contempt they deserved. My queries were never dismissed as those of a novice.

    As a lawyer, he was highly charismatic. He could weave magic using his wit and words to persuade the bench. It was inspiring to hear his submissions and the acclaim they received from the Bench. I found a ‘Hero’ in him and he remained the same throughout our professional life. Despite his hectic engagements, he always found time to guide me on each and every brief I received during my initial years, regardless of the remuneration involved. He was ready and willing to put in that extra time and use his legal acumen for me and it helped in my growth as an individual and a professional. He was a Senior who was genuinely invested in the growth of his junior colleagues. In that sense, he was a true ‘Guru’, who yearned to see his ‘shishyas’ flourish and take the mantle of this glorious profession forward. He was a tough task master and disciplinarian, in that he made us study the briefs rigorously and put in long hours. He was not at all miserly in giving his juniors opportunities to make appearances, provided they are well prepared. I myself got innumerable opportunities to appear in various cases where our office was engaged and these opportunities helped me grow in confidence. This applied to my colleagues who were associates of Radhakrishnan Sir as well.

    Valuable lessons

    The fundamental rule he taught us was - never mislead the Court on the facts of the case; if the facts are adverse, explore legal solutions to overcome them. He advised us to always marshal the facts properly, however complex they are. As a veteran civil lawyer, he had a keen eye to spot key factual nuances, and that often led to turning the fate of several cases in our favor. As juniors, we often got tempted to chase abstract questions of law; but he would advise us to focus on minute factual aspects and interlink them to questions of law. He also stirred in us a passion for the profession and always reminded us that we will forever remain students of law.

    I genuinely feel that the training given by Radhakrishnan sir made a huge difference in the professional lives of myself and my colleagues. It is my firm belief that a regular, continuous and systematic period of professional life under a genuine Senior - who is willing to teach and guide you- is necessary for any beginner in this profession in the formative years, unless you are exceptionally gifted. The training under a good senior will help one to imbibe a proper work culture, gather insights about the nuances of law, and most importantly, equip one to deal with the practical realities of litigation and court-craft. Seniors who allow young talents to join their office as junior associates are equally enjoined to guide and streamline them properly for the best interest of the profession and that of the system.

    A legendary lawyer

    Having been closely associated with Radhakrishnan Sir during his independent legal practice, I can assertively state that he was an erudite lawyer of exceptional skill and ability. The vibrance and eloquence with which Radhakrishnan Sir mastered advocacy is something worthy of being emulated by the junior members of the bar. He was not someone who believed in making long, repetitive and roundabout arguments. His submissions were precise and razor sharp. He was not just a master of the spoken word, but also the written word too. The way in which he drafted pleadings was crafty, artful and precise. His eloquence was backed up by his brilliance and deep erudition in law. There are innumerable occasions where he breathed life into ‘hopeless’ cases using his brilliant advocacy. His chaste English won many hearts among the juniors. His brilliance in the legal profession founded on his deep knowledge of the basic jurisprudence and mastery over civil and constitutional law placed him at a higher pedestal.

    Though there are several examples where his legal brilliance came into play, I can only cite two such instances due to paucity of space. There was a case before the bench led by Sri. M.N.Srikrishna, the then Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, regarding the appointment of public prosecutors. Radhakrishnan sir advanced a novel contention that a Public Prosecutor is not merely an advocate engaged by the State Government at its whims and fancies but holds a statutory office of significance. Referring to various provisions of the CrPC, he emphasized that a special role is assigned to the Public Prosecutors and that they are not to act as mere mouthpieces of the government. His arguments were accepted by the Bench when it declared Rule 7 and 8 of the Kerala Government Law Officers (Appointment and Conditions of Service ) and Conduct of Cases Rules 1978 as null and void. The second example is a case before a larger bench headed by Sri. Jawaharlal Gupta, the then Chief Justice of High Court of Kerala, which considered the question whether a Christian father is under an obligation to maintain his minor child. Radhakrishnan Sir’s contention was that the right to life of an individual, whether minor or major, is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and any custom or law, absolving a father of an obligation to maintain the minor child would be violative of Art.21. He further contended that every other provision of law, whether personal, public or private, has to conform to the Constitutional mandate and such provisions need to be interpreted in a manner that would fulfill and promote the Constitutional mandate. His innovative arguments were accepted by the Larger Bench and formed the basis of the first two conclusions of the Bench. Recognizing the professional skill and legal acumen Radhakrishnan Sir, was elevated to the Bench at a comparatively younger age of 46 years.

    Since I was not appearing before the Court of Radhakrishnan Sir due to our close association, I cannot account for his performance as a Judge of the High Court of Kerala, except through his reported judgments. Lawyers are the best Judge of Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan. Though the status of Radhakrishnan Sir changed, we, his junior associates, had the privilege of his continued patronage, guidance and support whenever we needed it.

    Radhakrishnan Sir was a source of inspiration for all of us who worked with him. He was considerate, warm and maintained a very healthy relationship with each one of his junior associates and their respective families. Radhakrishnan Sir was concerned about each one of us. Every member of his office will have a personal experience to share about the love and care they received from him. The outward impression of Radhakrishnan Sir as a reserved, serious personality is deceptive. He was calm and composed, was emotionally stable and mindful of the concerns of others. He was very sensitive to the cause of the environment as well.

    Non-elevation of Radhakrishnan Sir to Supreme Court of India was surprising and is definitely a loss to Indian judiciary. His legal acumen could have benefitted the Honourable Supreme Court and the pan-Indian jurisprudence

    The associates of Radhakrishnan Sir have very close connections with his family. All of us tried our best to provide the best possible medical care for him. But our efforts were insufficient to prevent the ultimate event. We will continue our support and care for Meera chechi, Kesav and Paru.

    With a heavy heart I pay my soulful homage to my beloved teacher, guru, guide and patron for the role he played in our life which is yet to be defined.

    (The author is an advocate practising at the Kerala High Court and can be reached at advocgv@gmail.com.

    Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan, former Chief Justice of the High Courts of Calcutta, Telangana, Chattisgarh and former judge of the Kerala High Court, passed away on April 3, 2023)

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