Swapnil Tripathi is the Student Chief Counsel of National Law University, Jodhpur. He recently filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India against the bar imposed on the interns to not enter the court rooms on miscellaneous days. He argued his own case along with Senior Advocate, Indira Jaising. In a landmark judgment, Swapnil Tripathi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India has allowed live streaming of Court proceedings in all the matters, except in rape cases and matrimonial disputes.
Q 1. Hello Swapnil, please tell me something about you and your law school journey so far
I am a Final year student at National Law University, Jodhpur pursuing a BBA.LLB (Hons.) degree. I hail from Kanpur. Since, school I have been an avid debater and a trained classical percussionist, playing the tabla, pakhawaj, ghatam.
Law School has been a bitter-sweet learning experience for me. The start I believe was a little rocky, given that I was originally allotted a different university and was upgraded to NLU-Jodhpur. By the time I joined college, everybody had their own set of friends thus making it difficult for me to blend in. However, I channelized the same to my academics, which I believe has been the best decision in law school.
I have taken a keen interest in constitutional law (credits to my concerned faculty in the subject Ms. Aakanksha Kumar). I believe, the intricacies within the subject, and the impact it wields on society make it extremely important for a law student. One might take an interest in any field of law but the validity of the said law will always be tested on the touchstone of the Constitution, thereby making an understanding of the same imperative. My interest in the subject has drawn me to academic writing and allowed to explore topical issues, where my views have been published in leading international and national journals. In fact, I also run my own personal blog titled “The ‘Basic’ Structure” where I explain core constitutional law topics/developments to enable a lay man’s understanding.
In law school, I felt that the interest of the student community in the subject was missing, given the conventional lack of employment options with the subject. Therefore, in my 4th year, I founded the Constitutional Law Society at the University, to rekindle interest of the students in the subject. The Society organises several events wherein contemporary developments are discussed and debated upon, making it the most active body in the University. Further, it is the only student run body in the University functioning under a working Constitution, the drafting of which was completed by the Society members itself.
Q 2. What inspired you to file a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India?
I sincerely believe that law students are equal and important members of the legal fraternity. Therefore, we should stand up for causes we believe in and challenge notions and practices, which contravene the principles of our Constitution. One such discriminatory practice, was regarding the entry of law interns in the Supreme Court of India.
During my internship at the Chambers of Advocate Rishabh Sancheti, I had worked on a matter which he was arguing in the Supreme Court. I wished to attend the proceedings of the same but was denied an entry pass by the Court Registry, stating that the matter was listed on a miscellaneous day, hence interns were not allowed [Miscellaneous days are Mondays and Fridays, when fresh matters are heard in the Court. Vide a Notice dated 21.8.2013, law interns were denied entry in the Supreme Court premises on the said day].
I went back to the office and expressed my disappointment to Sir, stating that the said rule hampers the learning of interns, as we are denied the opportunity of observing senior counsels arguing. He advised me to challenge the same, if I felt strongly about it.
Q 3. How was the process of filing a PIL and your experience of arguing in the Supreme Court of India?
I decided to file a Public Interest Litigation Petition in the Supreme Court against this rule, a year later when I was denied entry once again. Having interned with advocates at appellate courts, I was well versed with the nuances of drafting a writ petition and the filing modalities. To file a PIL one needs to adhere to the guidelines of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision in State of Uttaranchal v. Balwant Singh Chauffal, which inter alia include (a) the Petition and the Petitioner should be bona fide; (b) the Petitioner should have no mala fide or private motive; (c) it should raise a matter of public importance. I accordingly drafted the petition, stating that the impugned notice violates the ‘Right to Learning’ of the Interns and is contrary to the Bar Council of India regulations mandating internships with advocates/Judges of the Appellate Courts. I prayed for striking down this notice or in the alternative, create a live streaming room in the Court premises where the interns could sit and watch the proceedings live, without overcrowding the court rooms. The Petition was then accordingly filed (3 copies+1) in the Supreme Court Registry.
One should note that Indian law is unique in the world, as it allows petitioners to appear and argue their cases themselves. I moved an application to that effect and the Court Registrar allowed the same, post an interview. The journey thereon was intimidating but a great learning experience, nonetheless. Subsequent to filing my petition, a similar petition was filed by Ms. Indira Jai Singh Ma’am seeking live streaming of cases of constitutional importance, which was clubbed with my petition. The Petition was to be heard by the then Chief Justice of India Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. I was nervous on the first day of the hearing, as Ms. Indira Jai Singh was appearing in the case. During the hearing, seeing my nervousness, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud put me at ease and asked me to proceed with my arguments. I argued before the Court that the prohibition on interns violated our right to learning and was also arbitrary violating Article 14 of the Constitution.
Notice was issued in the matter on the first hearing itself and the Court asked the petitioners’ to submit their suggestions regarding the guidelines to the Attorney General for India Mr. K.K. Venugopal.
Finally on 26th September, 2018 the Court passed its verdict and agreed to live stream its proceedings. I was extremely happy to see that many of my submitted suggestions, made it to the final verdict. Additionally, I was especially grateful to Justice Chandrachud, who acknowledged my efforts in his concurring opinion.
The entire experience taught me how accepting and warm our legal community is as it allowed a law student to fight for a cause he believed in. The blessings and responses I received after the judgment were overwhelming.
Q 4. What are your views on following your passion in law school as opposed to maintaining good ranks and a good CV?
At the outset I would like to clarify that there is no one right piece of advice for law school. It varies from person to person; therefore, I can only share what worked for me. I always believed in pursuing one’s passion as if you’re not happy with what you are doing, you won’t be good at it. My passion was constitutional law and I participated in activities that helped expand my knowledge in the subject.
Although I do agree that grades are extremely important as they enable one to secure internships or pursue higher studies in world class universities, it would be erroneous to believe, that in one’s quest to maintain good grades, one cannot pursue their other interests. One can maintain a good batch rank by paying attention in the class room, taking notes and revising the same. We all have heard the famous line that don’t run behind marks, run behind excellence from 3 idiots, but the sad reality is that rank does matter as it is an objective criteria to assess someone (ironically, Rancho himself in the movie was a topper!).
Regarding a good CV, there is again no hard and fast rule. There are two ways to it. First, aiming for a well-rounded CV which consists of participating in moots, writing articles/papers, being part of a journal etc., with a focus on a specific subject or participating in all the above activities dealing while trying their hands in multiple subjects. I do believe in the philosophy of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ and hence, believe in specializing in one subject.
The second approach is trying your hand at multiple activities and then identifying the one you are better at. Here, one tends to be better than others in several activities.
Q5. Please give some advice to the current law students.
As members of the legal fraternity, I believe we law students should be opinionated and have informed views. This comes by reading good newspapers and books (in addition to legal material). I was advised the same by one of my faculty members at NLU-Jodhpur (Mr. Parveen Sir). Once I started following the same, I have seen tremendous results and I believe it has allowed me to develop a holistic personality .
One should not ignore the mandatory internships the Bar Council of India mandates for law students. These are important experiences through which one gets to learn the procedural and practical aspects of law, which go amiss in law school. In my opinion, one should intern with Hon’ble Judges, senior counsels, lawyers and law firms, as they all teach you different nuances of law.
Law school gets extremely competitive and has its own challenges. One should make an honest attempt toward not resorting to negative habits . Surround yourself with the correct support system and take your setbacks in your stride. Ignorance of mental health is a common problem in law schools, which needs to be taken care of.
Most importantly, be courteous and respectful to people you work with and under. One should be grateful to the people who teach and guide them, and appreciate their effort.