As A Law Clerk To A Kashmiri Prince: My Experience Of Working With Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

As A Law Clerk To A Kashmiri Prince: My Experience Of Working With Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

I am quite aware that the writing of memoirs and recollections is a tradition reserved only for the choices of gentlemen who, through their seminal contributions have left an indelible mark in the pages of history, unforgettable and cherished for the ages to come. These rare breed of men, I have been told appear on the horizon once or twice in a half century and leave behind them a trail of remarkable achievements and unique feats which are remembered long after they take leave. Legends are scripted of their varied exploits, people speak of the interactions they have had with them and of other cherished memories, and the younger members of society are made to look up to them as heroes and role models, personalities befitting of being emulated and followed.

If this account has to be one of truthfulness and reality, sans any wishful story writing, I must admit at this juncture that I was not one who believed in these delightful wonderland legends. Maybe because I happened to be only 23 years of age or perhaps because I had simply not enjoyed the company of such towering personalities, I failed to believe that any person could leave such an impact on a host of unsuspecting individuals who happened to be in contact with them. It simply looked too preposterous to be true and I personally was somebody who would never indulge in such hero worship. This was my mental disposition and understanding until that cold winter of 2015.

I still vaguely remember the day, sometime in October 2015, when some of my friends from the Law School at SASTRA University and I descended upon the High court of Judicature at Madras, in order to invite the Honourable Judges of the High court to an annual panel discussion organised by my university. We decided amongst ourselves the judges whom we would meet and invite, and as luck would have it, I, along with a couple others were given the opportunity of meeting the Lord Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. I must make a confession here for I find it both necessary and appropriate – I had never set foot inside the august High Court campus before. Being inclined towards business management, I was already planning to enrol for a degree in Business Administration and had therefore considered a trip to the High Court to be an unnecessary adventure. Leave alone the Honourable Lord Chief Justice, I had never seen any Honourable High Court Judge or ventured anywhere close to a court room. This experience therefore, was a first.

As is the tradition in any institution, I had been instructed by the Dean at SASTRA University to be in the best of my behaviour and to conduct myself in as formal a manner as possible. Having been given an appointment with the Chief Justice for lunch time, I for the very first time saw outside a corridor in the High Court,  the way in which Judges were escorted out of court – with the ‘shoos’ of the chopdars holding large Batons, the clearing of the corridors, the general atmosphere was of tremendous respect and reverence. What this imagery painted in my mind was of a Lord Chief Justice quite similar in mould to an old Victorian Headmaster – tall and lean, strict and authoritarian, with an aura of sternness and utmost discipline. We were ushered into an ante chamber where we waited patiently for a few minutes. I meanwhile, had already decided to conveniently stand right at the back of the group during the meeting, for I was too nervous and anxious how the interaction would go. Our waiting time finally ended and we were asked to enter the Chief Justice’s Chamber.

As I entered into a large room, what struck me first was the magnificence of the place – It could have quite easily put several 5 star hotels to shame! Brightly lit and with a wooden flooring, to one side were large portraits of its illustrious occupants with an inscribed eight feet board enumerating their reign in this august office. The doors had been brilliantly carved with wood, and there were stain painted windows with thematic representations of Justice. On both sides stood large teak bookshelves filled with innumerable books and in one corner I noticed a large ornamental chair, specially made for the Chief Justice, large enough to seat quite comfortably, 2 mid – sized men.

 Most surprising of them all was the gentleman I noticed sitting behind a large teak table on top of which was a vintage reading lamp – The Lord Chief Justice. He looked tall, broad shouldered, and chubby and must have been middle aged, judging by his greying hair which was cleanly combed and which fell elegantly up to his eyebrows. He wore a jet black robe to which was hanging a golden chained pocket watch, white pants and clean polished black shoes. His brown eyes were light, bright and had an almost mischievous sparkle behind his gold framed spectacles.  He had a squarish face with especially chubby cheeks and his personality radiated tremendous warmth and comfort. The most striking feature was his complexion, which was a pinkish red making me immediately think of ripe apples and pink roses - I could actually notice his cheeks turning red when he smiled at all of us. His voice was deep and gentle and his demeanour was of tremendous friendliness. I remember close to nothing about the discussion which we had for I was standing right at the back and simply observing him, but I can recall that his personality had a sort of an overpowering effect on those who interacted with him. On being indicated that it was time to leave, we all went close to him to shake hands and I recollect that despite his huge frame, he gave a very soft gently hand shake.

It was all over in a flash and it took me, quite frankly, a minute to come out of the surprise induced trance. I remember feeling quite confused, for what I had expected was a stern, cold experience and this had been anything but that! I don’t know what struck me or from where I mustered the strength to do so, but I went back into the Chief Justice’s chamber and much to his surprise and to my own, I asked if I could join him during the winter break as his intern, fully prepared for being rejected. To my surprise, the acceptance was almost immediate – I was to join in early November.

Come November, the high court had changed quite a bit. The CISF had now taken charge and the atmosphere was in stark contrast to what it had been before. It was during this phase of change that I joined the chambers of the Lord Chief Justice as his Law Intern. I still remember the first few interactions I had with the Chief Justice. Whenever I entered his chamber, he would always insist that I sit down and feel comfortable. This wasn’t peculiar to me or anybody else, but was his general practice, that anybody who comes to meet him was to be seated. My first assignment was a matter concerning the Election Commission of India dealing with the delimitation of a particular area. I knew nothing whatsoever about this issue and had not even heard of this concept of delimitation before! Nonetheless, I promised him that I would look into it and get back to him at the soonest. It was when I was working on this matter that the famed ‘Perumal Murugan’ matter came up for hearing. I was called and asked by the Chief Justice to look up on the various matters qua freedom of speech and give him the latest developments of the Supreme Court. Displaying a naivety of the greatest order I looked up a whole host of cases and went in one day to discuss the same with him.

It was well past 7pm and The Chief had just completed a rather long day – typical of the office of the Chief Justice, with a long list of administrative duties.  He looked visibly tired and I ventured to ask him if I should meet him the next day. He told me that it wasn’t a problem and that he was free to discuss – He wanted to know what had happened to the matters assigned. I told him quite frankly that I did not know much of this whole delimitation business, feeling quite awkward while saying it. He broke out into laughter. It mattered not to him that the first assignment was not even attempted. He called for the papers and asked me to come up next to him and took the trouble of explaining the whole case, including the provisions involved. Once he was satisfied that I had understood the matter, he asked me if I had done any work with regards to the Perumal Murugan matter. To this I very confidently told him that I had, and started dishing out case after case from the Supreme Court and the ramifications that had on Article 19(1)(a). This process took well over half an hour and he listened to me most patiently. I was feeling especially satisfied, for I believed that this seemed to be enlightening him on an area, which judged by his demeanour, was relatively new to him. Feeling quite content I very proudly asked him if this was enough for the moment. What he told me next, with a pleasant smile across his face, I will never forget – “Very Good Kartik. You have done a thorough study on the subject. I think you have updated me very well on this topic. Thank you. But just for your interest, please look up this judgement of the Delhi High Court in MF Hussain’s case. I think that judgement also deals with a similar issue”

I had read about the case while I was at Law School, it was the famous “Bharath Mata” case and the Delhi High Court, I remember reading had come to the aid of Mr.Hussain, protecting his right under Article 19(1)(a). I knew nothing more about the matter and hadn’t read the judgement either. Out of sheer curiosity, I immediately opened the judgement, as I came out of the Chief Justice’s chamber. To my absolute horror I discovered that this was a judgement authored by Justice Kaul, while he was at the Delhi High COurt, and even more surprisingly, all the cases that I had just briefed the Chief Justice about, which going by his reaction, I felt was something new to him, had already been applied and discussed threadbare in this judgement. The conclusion was only obvious – The Chief Justice had listened to me for about 40 minutes on a matter he was knew inside-out and had given me his time and attention only to make me feel satisfied and happy about the work that I had done. He had not even interrupted or indicated to me about his expertise in this matter.

That night, as he walked out of the Chief Justices office he gave me warm smile and asked me “Did you read that judgement of the Delhi High Court?” With a sheepish smile I replied “Yes sir, your judgement where you’ve discussed in detail all the cases I discussed with you today”. His reply exemplified his character – “No no Kartik, I don’t think that matters. Our discussion was also very useful. I am also learning law along with all of you”

The Hon’ble Chief Justice’s daily routine was this - He would arrive at his chamber, through the special entrance, by 10.20 am every day, by which time the Respected Registrar General, the Hon’ble puisne Judge with whom he would share the bench and I would be ready to welcome him in the morning. Every morning despite a variety of matters awaiting him inside court, he would always walk into his chamber with a bright smile and the typical red cheeks. He would proceed directly to his inner chamber where he would get into his robes and come out, ready to go to court. Come lunch hour, he would come back to his chambers and proceed directly to lunch, which was invariably, vegetable soup. Once lunch was finished, his administrative duties would begin, with all the Respected Registrars meeting him with a whole host of papers and bundles. This would go on for at least an hour and he would leave for court once more. After the conclusion of the days sitting, he would come back to his chamber, change his robes and review all his daily orders once again, reading each of them thoroughly and correcting any possible errors. Once this was done, the respected registrars would again meet him for getting his administrative orders and inform him about the various developments, after which he would meet various visitors, who had been given an appointment. By the time these responsibilities ended the clock would be close to 8PM. Usually, it was at this time of the day that he would be comparatively free and I would have the opportunity of meeting him, something which always gave to me a brooding sense of guilt, for I felt that I would be, in all likelihood, further tiring an already worn out gentleman.

This sense of trepidation, however used to be diminished to a large extent, by what I would witness inside his chamber, on a daily basis. The Lord Chief Justice was a person whose sheer will and dedication to duty coupled with the pleasantness of his personality always seemed to overpower human weaknesses of exhaustion and fatigue. Even though he would look quite truly worn out by the end of a long day, I have often had long conversations with him, sometimes exceeding an hours’ time and was surprised to note that he would remember point after point, argument after argument made in court, spanning across different portfolios and matters.

The experience of working, inter alia, in three landmark judgements of his Lordship The Chief Justice in The Perumal Murugan Case[1], The constitutional validity of the Tamil Nadu Establishment of Private Law Colleges (Prohibition) Act, 2014 [2] and the Challenge laid to the Appointment of various members to the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission[3], was a great learning in itself.

The approach to drafting the judgements of each of these matters had an interesting procedure. During the course of the Arguments in court, the Lord Chief Justice would make extensive notes of the various contentions submitted by various counsel. Areas of perceived importance, found in the submitted typed set of papers would be flagged by markers. By the time the arguments were complete and the judgement was reserved, the paper book would have at least 15 markers apart from 3 to 4 sides of handwritten notes. To top this, I would also prepare my own notes on the matter after hearing the contentions of the parties.

At the end of the Arguments, the counsel would be instructed by the bench to prepare a synopsis of the various contentions in 3 to 4 sides.

These handwritten notes, the 3 page synopsis along with the original typed set of papers and the case laws submitted would be scrutinised carefully by the Lord Chief Justice. In order to avoid overlooking any point of law or any dimension of the case which may have escaped the attention of the counsel, I would first go through the entire paper work submitted to the court and then begin tracing the entire history of the law on the subject as propounded through the various judgements of the Supreme Court, right from 1950 onwards. I would also have a look at how other Commonwealth Nations have dealt with certain legal principles along with any possible doctrines or jurisprudential commentaries on the issue.

After completing the research on the subject, we would have invariably, at least 35 to 40 cases decided by various courts of the Commonwealth (including the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India), and legal commentary running to a minimum of 50 pages. After informing the Chief Justice of these developments, I would be asked to send this material to the Chief Justices bungalow and report at the bungalow by 10.30 Am on the next Saturday.

At 10.30 AM on Saturday, I would find the entire bunch of papers with markings and underlining – The Chief Justice would have gone through the entire material. He would arrive in his office at exactly the said time and then start dictating the order. He would hardly take a look at the paper book or make any clarification with regards to the facts or the law. Once he started dictating the order, he would go on for a few hours, I remember being in a 5 hour marathon sitting once!

These sessions were quite truly a display of great mental prowess and knowledge. His Lordship would never go back on any of his sentences or lose track of his reasoning. It would be one single, continuous, uninterrupted flow of thought, all clearly aligned and reasoned. None of the facts or questions of law would escape his attention. His control and use of the language was terrific, never was there any doubt with regards to the use of any word or phrase. Sometimes, he would look up at the ceiling and while doing so keep dictating for about one hour - I used to look up to that very spot, trying to figure out what was on the ceiling that allows for such complete mastery of thoughts and ideas!

I still remember how I was late to one of these sessions, I arrived only at about 11 AM, and had been informed over phone that his Lordship had already arrived at 10.30 AM. I was late by at least half an hour. I presumed that The Chief Justice would have begun the dictation and wanted to silently slip into the room and make an apology. I entered his Lordship’s office, ready with a well-rehearsed and reasoned apology only to be taken by surprise by the fact that his Lordship had not begun dictating the order. I began apologising, wondering what had caused such a delay only to be cut short – “It’s all right, Kartik... I thought I will start dictating once you also arrive”

Due to a providential blessing, I have had the privilege of having long and interesting conversations with his Lordship on various matters, both legal and non-legal. I have always found him to be very well read and up to date with all the happenings and events of the world. He used to share with me the times he spent in his college and of various interesting experiences with his professors, his days as a young advocate in Delhi and of his initial experiences on the Bench of the Delhi High Court. I have heard from his lordship fascinating tales about his hometown of Kashmir - of its lakes, hillocks, apple orchards and other wondrous attractions, and deeply inspiring recollections of his great ancestor and role model – Dewan Bahadur Raja Sir Daya Kishan Kaul, a great statesman and diplomat who served as the Finance Minister to the Maharajah of Kashmir, Diwan to the Maharajah of Alwar and later, as Diwan to the Maharajah of Patiala.

With a completely down to earth attitude and unparalleled humility, Chief Justice Kaul was extremely kind hearted and friendly to all persons, irrespective of their rank or occupation. He would interact with all individuals, right from his brothers on the bench, the members of the bar, to all those who worked in his office and bungalow in the same friendly manner. He even used to speak and interact with his pet beagle, ‘buddy’, in the same manner, as if ‘buddy’ were a regular human being! All persons were the same to him and he treated everyone he met, with respect and courtesy. The human emotions of anger, frustration and irritation, I somehow believed were alien to him. Throughout my tenure, I have not a single memory of him displaying such sentiments.

His integrity and honesty was proverbial. Having accompanied his Lordship to a number of events, both public and private, I have found that he  displayed at all times, at all places and under all circumstances, a most dignified and refined behaviour. He truly personified, in my opinion all those characteristics and traits that reflect the hallowed office of the Chief Justice of Madras.

Apart from his legal duties, he also had a deep interest in academic reading and study. I remember he used to visit the library once a while and take for reading old legal classics on constitutional law. He was deeply interested in theatre and would attend various English plays – I even have had the wonderful opportunity of accompanying him to one of them, at the Museum Theatre in Egmore!  He was a connoisseur of art and his bungalow was full of portraits and paintings – He even had a vintage reprint of the Carbolic Smoke Ball advertisement and a representation of the iconic Snail in a Beer Bottle. He had a collection of wrist watches, including a large golden pocket watch belonging to his ancestors, which used to be pinned to the robes which he wore in court. I remember he also had a collection of Mont Blanc pens, though ironically, he used to use only an ordinary pencil for making his notes and for other writing!

The month of February, 2017 is still clear in my memory. The preceding months had been filled with wild rumours, gossip and its related excesses, but one thing it appeared, was for certain – The Lord Chief Justice was going to leave Madras, he was to be elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. This brought to all of us working in the Chief Justice’s Office mixed feelings - Happiness that Chief Justice Kaul, a gentleman who was supremely qualified to adorn the Bench at The Supreme Court, was getting elevated, but also a sense of sadness and gloom that The High Court would be losing a strong and decisive Chief Justice of great stature.

The news of his elevation finally broke out in the first week of February, and only the incidental formalities and paperwork remained. On the last day of his sitting at the Chief Justice’s Court, after the board was clear, his Lordship go up from his seat, and kept standing for a fraction longer, this was to be his last bow. With Folded hands he addressed the bar – “Thank you all very much for your cooperation”.

That very evening, he embarked on a visit to all the administrative offices of the High court and thanked all the court staff for their cooperation, asking them to keep up the good work. They were all pleasantly surprised, and had a large smile upon their faces. Many ran forward to shake his hand and to have a look at him, up close.

At least 500 to 600 persons comprising of the High Court staff, members of the Bar, and members of the general public visited the Chamber of the Chief Justice that evening. Innumerable shawls were draped, photographs taken in hundreds and rich encomiums were offered to his Lordship. Bouquets were given in such large numbers to his Lordship, that a random passer-by may have mistaken the office for a make shift flower shop.

On the next day, a farewell event was organised by the High Court which was attended by atleast 700 or 800 people. The Hall was filled to full capacity and I hardly found space to walk. All the puisne judges of the High court were present along with atleast 50 Senior Counsel. Innumerable members of the bar and the High Court staff were present. What will forever remain in my memory is the picture of great sadness and unhappiness that pervaded the whole event. More than happiness for his Lordships elevation, there was a feeling amongst the entire crowd that a great Chief Justice was leaving the High Court. I even remember a certain Senior Advocate crying very loudly and giving me a strong pat on my back!

A guard of honour was offered by the CISF and a final photo session was organised for the Judges. After this, The Lord Chief Justice went back to his chamber, for one last time. A few of us were inside, with his Lordship, as he signed his last few administrative files. Once they were all done, he sat there for a few moments, perhaps taking in the significance of the moment, getting ready for his last good bye.

On a personal level I was deeply disturbed. I had for the preceding few week mastered the act of hiding my emotions – I put up a smiling face before everybody, and spoke very happily of his Lordships elevation. On the inside however, I was intensely troubled. His Lordships elevation would naturally mean the end of my relationship with him as a law clerk and also signal an end of this interesting experience. I had of course, expressed my deep interest and willingness to accompany him to Delhi, if at all such a move was possible. But I knew that my proposal was riddled with uncertainties, and even if it was doable, I ought to have merited such a move. As a person, Chief Justice Kaul meant a lot to me. He was a mentor and role model and I looked upto his Lordship to draw inspiration. I had also become very attached to him and shared with him a respect driven relationship that went beyond the association between a law clerk and a Judge.

As he got up to leave his chamber, I simply could not hold back my tears. I cried as silently as I could, not intending to make the situation awkward. Naturally, I was spotted and before I could compose myself, The Lord Chief Justice came upto me and said, putting his hand on my shoulder – “Why are you crying? This is not a ‘farewell’ for you and me.. You are coming with me to Delhi, na?”

We left to the Airport and finally bid his Lordship goodbye. On our way back from the Airport, I was caught by surprise due to a very obvious and ill-concealed emotional outburst. It was The Chief Justices car driver, who was almost in tears. He said to me in Tamil : “I have heard of God and his avatars only in tales and Legends. But I am telling you Karthi, I feel that I have been with a real God for the last few years. What a person he is! I Don’t know if I can ever be with somebody like him again!”

Before leaving to Delhi and joining his Lordship as his Law Clerk in the Supreme Court, I spent a month in the High Court, working as a Law Clerk to the Acting Chief Justice, which was again, a new experience.

What I remember during this time was what a certain Registrar of the High Court told me, after asking me how it had been working as Justice Kauls Law clerk. She told me this and I will never forget it “I have been working in this high court for over 35 years and I can tell you very confidently - Chief Justices like Justice Kaul come to a High Court as Chief Justice, perhaps once in every 30 or 40 years. You can see maybe 1 or 2 Chief Justices like him, of his character, stature and ability. You are very lucky Kartik. You have had the great blessing of working closely with a real legend.”

What Madam Registrar told me, I know is indeed true – I have learnt and continue to learn a lot from Justice Kaul, both by personal instruction and more so by his personal example. Class and dignity overflows in all his actions, his approach to matters and his conduct in general reflect a very high calibre, pedigree and character. Interacting with his Lordship for a mere 10 minutes would make you feel that you are in the presence of a truly aristocratic and remarkable person. A senior lawyer in Madras once told me that certain members of the bar even forget what they are to argue by simply looking up to him on the bench – such was the overpowering presence!

Justice Kaul will be remembered by history for what his presence brought to the High Court – According to civil society and the people of Madras and Tamil Nadu, Sanjay Kishan Kaul had become synonymous to great honesty, integrity and more than all, a sense of substantial Justice. He had strongly strengthened the feeling in the minds and hearts of ordinary citizens, young and old alike - No matter what happens politically or due to executive action, substantial Justice will always be served at the High Court.

He instilled in all those who appeared in Court 1 the belief that they would always find in the Chief Justice’s Chair, a tall, fair, and strong personality from Kashmir, who will not cower from pressures of any sort and that actions, however drastic and unthinkable they may seem, will be taken to protect those in need of justice.

 His judgements in the Perumal Murugan matter, the Public Service Commission case and in the Private Law Colleges Abolition Act, bringing in the CISF to protect the High court, etc only fortified the belief that the entire legal fraternity had in him. The Chief’s mere presence had a calming presence on the petitioners. Infact there have been several parties in person who have told him that they would like their matter to be decided before his elevation to the Supreme Court, some even used to address him as “your holiness”! I also remember an advocate submitting to his Lordship in open court that he was about to file a PIL requesting Justice Kaul to continue as Chief Justice in Madras! Petitions and parties in persons would appear in large numbers sometimes presenting matters which were strictly not legal and that, I believe, in itself speaks of Justice Kauls success, that the citizenry believed that no matter what the scope and nature of the injustice that had befallen them, they were confident and felt comfortable in confiding their worries and problems to Justice Kaul. In a sense, the people genuinely felt that Court 1 would be a panacea of all evils - social, religious, moral, economic, leave alone legal!

Even Media houses paid tribute to his glittering stint at the Madras High Court – The Times of India published an article titled “SK Kaul: Taming the unruly, serving justice to the wronged[4]” which was followed up by a piece published in the Deccan Chronical ­titled “The judge with a golden heart and a brilliant head[5]

Chief Justice Kaul showed me what it took and what it was like to live and to be looked at by people as a real prince. Hailing from a royal family himself, his intelligence, stature, integrity, conduct, the complete absence of small-mindedness in his approach and his genuine will to strengthen and cleanse ‘the system’ made him command respect and draw praise from all quarters. One thing has been unanimously acknowledged by the Bench, the Bar and the general public – As a human being and as a Judge, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul is truly a class apart and is in a league of his own. It has been a tremendous journey for me as a young 23 year old law graduate, and the experience of working with Chief Justice Kaul will always remain clear and untarnished in my memory, for it stands as a testament to the most cherished and enriching days of my life.

[1] S. Tamilselvan vs The Government of Tamil Nadu & Others – Writ Petition Nos.1215 and 20372 of 2015

[2] Advocates Forum for Social Justice  vs The State of Tamil Nadu & Others – Writ Petition Nos.29536 and 29766 of 2014

[3] T.K.S.Elangovan  vs The State of Tamil Nadu & Others – Writ Petition Nos.4113, 4161 and 4584 of 2016

[4] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/s-k-kaul-taming-the-unruly-serving-justice-to-the-wronged/articleshow/56575992.cms

[5] http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/100716/the-judge-with-a-golden-heart-and-a-brilliant-head.html

The author currently works a Law Clerk in the Supreme Court of India with Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul. The author also worked as the Law Clerk to Justice Kaul, when his Lordship served as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. 

[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]