In July 1892 came up one of the finest buildings in Chennai. The then Governor of Madras declared: “I have pleasure in handing you the key, as a token that the building has been entrusted to your hands by the Government; in full confidence, that the administration of justice will be carried on with the ability and integrity that has always marked the Madras High Court.
“To you, My Lord and to the other gentlemen who hold with you the high position of Judges of the High Court, and to those gentlemen who occupy themselves in the learned profession of law, in all your hands the administration of justice may be safely left and we may look forward for many years to come with the full knowledge that the best years of your lives will be devoted to carrying on one of the noblest of works, the uninterrupted administration of Justice.”
The Chief Justice replied: “I fervently hope that long after you and I have passed away to that undiscovered country of which we know so little, there may also continue to be found men of ability and courage, who will administer the law in these courts without distinction of class, creed or race.”
What eloquent words were these, so meaningful and a guide to generations to come!
Many eminent judges starting from Sir T Muthuswamy Iyer, whose exquisite marble statue adorns the sprawling court buildings, inspired all men of law. E Norton, the inimitable barrister said: “what always struck me in Muthuswamy was his magnificent modesty. He was too great to be vain.”
In the post-Independence era, the first Chief Justice P V Rajamannar stole the thunder. Speaking about the traditions of this court during the centenary celebrations, he exhorted: “to my mind, they are: legal erudition and acumen of a very high order, remarkable intellectual subtlety and an extensive and exhaustive knowledge of case law, not only Indian, but also foreign. Of course, there are other traditions, which it shares with all high courts; of fairness and impartiality, independence and freedom from bias.” These great traditions are still followed, in a fair measure.
When I recall my days in the Bar, a galaxy of erudite judges simmers in the sauce of my memory.
Chief Justice Ananthanarayanan had a profound mastery of English literature. Chief Justice Veerasamy had a sense of high discipline. Justice Srinivasan’s witticism could never be surpassed. Justice T Venkatadhri had excellent common sense while Justice Ramakrishnan possessed an unquenchable thirst for learning. Justice Krishnasamy Reddiar stood fearless. Justice Maharajan was a fine Tamil scholar. The list goes on. They were men of learning and experience in law with exemplary morals, great patience and calmness.
When I think of the battery of lawyers my heart swells with pride at how well read, how efficient and how respectful the bar led way to the bench. Thirupugazh Mani was a learned lawyer. M K Nambyar the doyen was an expert in constitutional law. V L Ethiraj towered every one in criminal law. K V Venkat Subramania Iyer was an authority on Hindu Law. V K Venkatacharry’s profund knowledge of law was fascinating. Mohan Kumara Mangalam was simply brilliant. Amongst the younger crop K K Venugopal was truly a chip of the old block.
Parasaran was an illustrious Attorney General of India. V P Raman was as brilliant as one could be. N T Vanamamalai, was a shrewd criminal lawyer. Their names will always reverberate in the corridors of the High Court.
The way down...
Today the high traditions are on the wane. Maybe because learning law is not taken seriously; maybe the profession is over-crowded. The administration of justice is lethargic; it takes years to get a final decision. This may corrode the faith of the common man in the judiciary.
One friendly advice to the young lawyers of today:
“Stick to the profession; seek to elevate it. Do not seek by it to make money. Doing that makes it a trade, not a profession. Be fair in charges. Help the poor with professional aid. Believe in Webster who rightly said that the fate of a lawyer is to work hard, live well and die poor.”
It is my fervent prayer the present atmosphere reverts to the glorious golden days.