Dear Judges, a Short Temper Does Not Become You

The higher one moves up a hierarchy, the more humble and courteous one must become.

A senior Supreme Court judge recently lost his temper in court at a senior lawyer, allegedly because the latter was repeating an argument which had already been made by another lawyer in the same case, and at his retort. The judge reportedly threatened to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the lawyer and convict him. At this remark, the senior lawyer walked out of the courtroom, obviously since he could not bear the insult.

I am in the US presently and I read about the incident on the internet. So I sent an email to the senior lawyer, concerned, asking for his version, but he did not respond. However, several lawyers of the Supreme Court have told me that this particular judge is very rude to lawyers in court.

I also enquired about the incident from another senior advocate of the Supreme Court, who confirmed that the judge is very rude. He also wrote, “The level of gratuitous rudeness in the Supreme Court has increased to a point that it has become insufferable. Hopefully the new judges will restore the balance, unless while sitting with their seniors they have assumed that rudeness is the due process of the court.”

He also mentioned that previous Chief Justice of India Gogoi, who was known for his discourteous behaviour in court (apart from his other well-known failings), told Fali Nariman, Kapil Sibal, Dushyant Dave, Rajiv Dhavan and other eminent senior lawyers in court, “None of you deserves to be heard.”

Also read: SC Advocates’ Body Expresses Concern Over Justice Arun Mishra’s Behaviour With Lawyers

In my opinion, judges losing their temper in court, rude behaviour like shouting and screaming, insulting language, threatening contempt proceedings against lawyers for perceived repetition and retorts, and threatening to have them thrown out of court or convicted etc. does not behove judges, particularly those in the higher judiciary, and are wholly uncalled for. No doubt judges have to control court proceedings, but this must be done in a dignified manner. An ugly display of temper by a judge in court not only lowers its dignity, but may even lead to injustice, for when a person loses their temper, they are prone to mistakes.

The higher one moves up a hierarchy, the more humble and courteous one must become. Judges of the Supreme Court are at the apex of the judicial hierarchy, and so must be particularly humble and polite. Every written sentence of theirs becomes the law of the land in India (vide Article 141 of the constitution ). This tremendous power comes coupled with tremendous responsibility, and this calls for calm, placid and unperturbed behaviour in court and a tranquil and serene frame of mind.

Also read: The Jurisprudence of the Fait Accompli

In the early years of the Supreme Court, there were judges like Justices Patanjali Shastri, B.K. Mukherji, Vivian Bose, Fazl Ali, etc. who were not only very erudite, but also polite and humble. I may give an illustration.

Once, a very senior and very old lawyer of the Allahabad high court, Shyam Kishan Dar, came to Delhi in the 1950s to argue a case before the Supreme Court. He was then in his 80s and was hard of hearing. He was also known to be a bit short tempered and unsophisticated in his language. While arguing his case, he felt the judges were unnecessarily interrupting him and not following him, so he turned to his junior and said loudly, “Yeh haraamzaade na sunte hain na samajhte hain (These bastards neither listen nor understand).”

Instead of initiating contempt proceedings against him, the judges coolly said to the junior counsel, “Mr Counsel, we respect Mr Dar a lot, but he seems to be upset. Have we done anything wrong? We apologise if we have.”

Can we imagine this happening today? It appears that this trend has now reversed, and the lack of erudition among many Indian judges is accompanied by arrogance, a short fuse and a character willing to take offence even over trivialities.

Justice Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court.