My Reminiscences of the Allahabad High Court

G S Pathak


G S Pathak

Gopal Swarup Pathak, 1896-1982, was a Judge of the Allahabad High Court for six months (1945-46), member of the Indian delegation to the United Nations (1946-59), Union Law Minister (1966-67), and Vice-President of India (1969-74).

Editor's note: This aricle is taken from the website of the Allahbad High Court. It is a speech delivered on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of the Allahbad High Court in Novermber 1966. The author was India's Union Law Minister at that time.

I joined the [Allahabad] High Court Bar in the year 1928. I shall endeavour to give the picture of the High Court as I saw it in those days.

Tradition had it that in the history of the High Court there were always two outstanding personalities at the Bar who generally appeared on opposite sides in important cases. They were of equal rank and dominated the scene as friendly rivals. Moti Lal Nehru and Sunder Lal were bracketed together. Later came Tej Bahadur Sapru and Satish Chandra. Dr. Sen took the place of Satish Chandra after his death. Pyarelal Banerii and Dr. Katju [Editor’s note: The reference is to Dr. Kailash Nath Katju] followed. In 1928 and the years following, there was a phalanx of seniors and the juniors had little chance of rising fast to reach the higher ranks. Apart from the names already mentioned, there were Uma Shanker Bajpai, Iqbal Ahmad and Sham Kishan Dar in addition to a few others. They practically monopolised the senior briefs.

Sir Sunder Lal had passed away before 1928. Moti Lal Nehru had given up regular practice. He, however, appeared occasionally in celebrated cases. He appeared in the Bail Applications in the Meerut Conspiracy case. The Court room was packed to the full. A number of counsel appeared on behalf of the accused. Among them, Moti Lal Nehru was the last to speak and his 45 minutes' address was most refreshing and created the greatest impression.

He was opposed by Langford James, the leader of the Calcutta Bar. In reply, Langford James started with the sentences: "My Lord, had I not felt ..." He intended to say that he would not have opposed the bail application had he not felt that there was no substance in it. But before the sentence was complete Motilal Nehru interjected, "I want a ruling from the Court. Is it a place for expressing one's feelings or making submissions?" The ruling came from the Bench, which was presided over by Sir Grimwood Mears, "You are right Pandit, this is a place for making submissions." Langford James did not expect this interruption and the flow of his subsequent arguments was upset. I also watched Motilal Nehru arguing a company matter before Mr. Justice Ashworth. He was building up a case of fraud on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Small bits of evidence were skilfully pieced together and ultimately the full picture of fraud was before the court.

Since those days, the system of working and the terms on which the seniors and juniors worked have completely changed. I believe that juniors in those days were more fortunate in one respect. The system of transferring briefs by seniors, whose hands were full with big cases, to juniors was very common. A promising junior was given a fair chance. If his work gave satisfaction, he was very much in demand. He would be complimented on his arguments in court both by his senior colleagues and sometimes by the Judges. Briefs from seniors came in quick succession and most seniors paid for the work taken from the juniors. Some Judges were particularly good to juniors. They even mentioned in the judgments the names of the juniors who argued cases before them with words of commendation: 'Mr. 'X' argued the case with great skill and ability', 'Mr. 'Y' argued the case with great enthusiasm' and so on. When these judgments were reported, the juniors attracted attention and became known to the mofussil lawyers and the litigant public.

At the time of admission of cases, a junior sometimes had a better chance than his senior. Mr. Justice Niamatullah was one of those Judges, who never allowed a junior, when pitted against a senior in his court, to feel that the latter had an advantage over him. That learned Judge used to say that if a Judge were not to concentrate on what is said but paid undue attention to who said it, he gave evidence of his own incompetence. I was once arguing an admission case before him and Mr. Justice Pollock. Mr. Justice Niamatullah was the junior judge. After hearing me for a few minutes, Mr. Justice Pollock remarked: "I do not wish to hear you any more. There is nothing in your case." Mr. Justice Niamatullah at once said: "Mr. Pathak, you go on. I shall hear you." There upon I was allowed to argue my case fully.

Sir Shah Mohammad Sulaiman was a talking Judge. Once Sir Tej was arguing a case before him and was not free when wanted in the Chief Justice's Court before a Bench consisting of Sir Grimwood Mears, C. J. and Mr. Justice Sen. Sir Grimwood Mears asked Sir Charles Alston, who happened to be present in his court, "Do you know where Sir Tej is?" Out came the reply, "My Lord, he is listening to Sir Shah Sulaiman in the adjoining Court-room." Comparisons are odious. But it must be said that there was no senior more kind, more generous and more solicitous of the welfare of juniors than Sir Tej.

Coming to more recent times. It was commonly said about Pyarelal Banerji that few, if any at all, had spoken such good English in the Allahabad High Court as he did. He was master of chaste legal diction. When he was arguing it was difficult to say whether he was reading from a House of Lords' decision or he was making his own argument.

Happily Dr. Katju is with us. I must refer to at least one incident about him. When his case was called on and Dr. Katju stood up to open it, the Chief Justice asked, "What is all this we are reading in the newspapers about the Chamber of Princes?" Dr. Katju snapped, "I see, your Lordship is reading newspapers these days." There was a ripple of laughter in court and without any further delay the case started.



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