12 March 2021 12:49 PM GMT
As their Lordships enter the Courtroom, they are preceded by the softened bustle of Court staff and lawyers abruptly halting conversation, and rising in their seats – all as a mark of their reverence for the institution and Judges. The grandeur which surrounds the lives of Judges and what appears to be a life of privileges often overshadows the immense hard work put in by those sitting...
As their Lordships enter the Courtroom, they are preceded by the softened bustle of Court staff and lawyers abruptly halting conversation, and rising in their seats – all as a mark of their reverence for the institution and Judges. The grandeur which surrounds the lives of Judges and what appears to be a life of privileges often overshadows the immense hard work put in by those sitting on the Bench.
Justice Malhotra joined the legal profession at a time when women representation at the Bar was minimal. Her trajectory from an Advocate-on-record, to a Senior Advocate, to a Judge of the Supreme Court is inspirational. She is the first woman to be directly elevated from the Bar as a Judge of the Apex Court. With her hard work and laser-focused determination, she has left the door open for women to enter the "old men's club".
I have had the privilege of working under Justice Malhotra as a Law Clerk-cum-Research Assistant since April 2019. For almost 2 years, I have witnessed Justice Malhotra dedicatedly discharge her duties as a Judge.
In the pre-COVID era, an average Miscellaneous Day would glare us in the face with 50 to 60 matters. Notwithstanding the heavy file-pressure, Justice Malhotra would read each matter from cover-to-cover. She prepared detailed notes in every file, regardless of the stakes involved. To make up for the imbalance between the immense volume of work, and the limited hours in a day, Ma'am would regularly take briefings even beyond 10 p.m. and wake up the next morning at 5 a.m. to read files.
There was no cutting corners, even when it came to writing judgments. Ma'am was cognizant of the fact that the Supreme Court was the final court for adjudication. In her view, it was imperative to grant relief to those entitled to it under law. Every judgment would go through multiple reiterations to ensure that the final draft of the judgment was clear, concise, and articulate. Ma'am's aim was for the spirit of the law to triumph over fanciful arguments. Her ability to work towards perfection, while also being efficient is particularly admirable.
Justice Malhotra steered through the daunting number of files and judgments, while working on the 4th Edition of her Commentary on the Law of Arbitration. Her treatise clearly reflects her pro-arbitration approach and desire for India to evolve into a hub for international commercial arbitration. For Ma'am, each Chapter in her Commentary was an opportunity to clarify the law on arbitration. She made a conscious effort to steer arbitration jurisprudence in the right direction. While carrying out research and edits for the 4th Edition of her commentary, I witnessed her deliberate on, and deep-dive into pertinent questions of law. Her in-depth understanding of arbitration made this experience equivalent to a masterclass in arbitration.
I believe I speak on behalf of all of Justice Malhotra's juniors, when I say that, to us, Ma'am is a superhuman, who sails through a gruelling 7 day work-week, without a break. Despite the long hours of work, juggling between judicial work and book-work, and other time-consuming demands of the office she held, Ma'am was a nurturing and caring senior. She would often find time to discuss our interests, and guide our career aspirations.
When the volume of work would overwhelm us, Justice Malhotra would teach us how to plan ahead, navigate our to-do list, and comfort us with pastries.
I fondly remember one early winter morning when I was working in office, I immediately received a call from Ma'am – "Good morning Vidhi! You're the early bird today. What will you have for breakfast?" – Me, being only a few months into the office, hesitantly replied – "Nothing Ma'am, I'm good." – Justice Malhotra in her usual affectionate manner said – "What nothing? Don't lie! I'm sending coffee and breakfast".
Justice Malhotra's guidance helped us evolve from law clerks to lawyers. During our briefing sessions, she would teach us how to simplify complicated facts, and put our points forward succinctly. On many occasions, Ma'am would guide us on how to address the Court. She taught us the importance of always being respectful and fair to the Bench, and taking an unfavourable order graciously.