Nilesh Sabnis on clearing Maharashtra Judicial Services Examination and life as a judge

Mr Nilesh Sabnis is a Judicial Magistrate posted in Satara, Maharashtra who cleared the prestigious Maharashtra Judicial Services Examination at the age of 24. Prior to the same, he worked as a guest faculty of Health Law at Bharati Vidyapeeth (Deemed to be University) New Law College, Pune, which he is also an alumnus of (LL.M.). Mr Sabnis cleared the examination in his very first attempt and his overall rank was 7th, a feat to be remembered. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Ambassador Prakhar Srivastava on preparation for Judicial Services, life as a judge, and various other things.

  1. You are working as a Judge in Satara, how has it been like for you so far?

Currently, my training period is underway. We all have to go through a compulsory training of 1 year. The training has been a tremendous learning experience for me. There are two phases of the training- academic and field training. The academic training lasts about two and a half months which happened at the Maharashtra Judicial Academy. We learnt a great deal in the training. We are taught such little nitty-gritty, for example, basic mannerisms, how to address lawyers of different ages, etc.

  1. So what exactly are you taught in the academic training?

The focus mainly is on the qualities of a judge. You see some of my colleagues and I are as young as 24 and 25 years of age. The lawyers who come to the court however, could be as old as 60, 70 or even 80 years of age. How to address them, the legal points, mannerisms, everything is covered in the academic training. We were taught to be respectful towards advocates. One has to understand that these advocates may have 30 to 40 years of experience and we have barely started, so how to deal with them is an important thing to learn. I would say that’s the most important thing we learnt there. Besides, we were taught to write precise judgments. Since the level that we are at makes us deal with people from rural areas, or the grass roots, we have to write simple yet precise judgments and avoid unnecessary stuff.

For example, “the suit was filed by the plaintiff” is unnecessary as the suit is always filed by the plaintiff. Instead, we can directly write, “this is a suit for perpetual injunction”.

  1. So as a Magistrate you may have to deal with both Civil and Criminal cases. I’m sure there might be some cases that require sensitivity and caution when being dealt with. Are you taught the same in the academy?

So one of the things that I have observed is that people may sometimes be scared of the police machinery because of what they watch in movies etc. We do have people who approach the Judges directly. Basically, there is a certain kind of fear in people which is very normal. But as the law allows us, such sensitive proceedings are handled in camera. And yes, we are taught to deal with them sensitively.

  1. Let’s now talk a little about your preparation period sir. I understand you cleared the exam in the year 2017, how did you prepare Sir? That’s the most important question everyone wants an answer to (laughs).

To be honest, it was difficult for me also to believe that I have done it, it was clearly overwhelming. I began preparing in December, 2016 and my Preliminary Examination was in May, 2017. I also joined a coaching in Pune itself for the same which was very beneficial for me.

  1. So you do advise students to join coachings?

Well if they are confident enough, they may not, but if they aren’t they must. I wasn’t very confident initially, hence I went for it.

  1. So are their good coachings in Pune?

Yes there are. Awadh Classes in Pune are really good. 38 of 50 students in my batch made it that year.

  1. I’m sure that will be beneficial for readers in Pune. Let’s return to preparation sir.

So yes, I started in December 2016. I first began reading the bare acts. We were told at the coaching to read each bare act at least thrice. The first reading may be cursory, you should try and see the objectives, the ingredients of an offence, amendments, etc. So first reading must be normal reading. Highlight important stuff.

In the second reading, you will automatically cut short on the highlighted stuff and understand what the important portions are. You must always understand what the purposes of the provisions are to get more clarity.

By the third time, it is as if you are revising the Act.

One of the peculiar things I did (laughs) was that I audio recorded my answers and rather than listening to songs, I would listen to those songs.

Also, I completely stopped using mobile phones. I changed my mobile and began using a simple Rs 1000 phone to stay away from distractions.

  1. How important was the LL.M. for Judicial Services Examination?

The reason why I pursued LL.M. right away was because I believe that if there comes a gap in academics and you begin earning, it is difficult to get back to studies. So whatever the duration of the break, the connection with academics gets lost. As regards the Judicial Services Examination, I won’t say it had much of a role to play.

  1. How would you assess the importance of extra-curricular activities?

To be honest, I did not participate in many activities, but today I wish I did. I am sure such activities help build confidence in students. You see, it became very clear in my head when I was in the second year itself that I have to go for Judiciary so I was centred around studying only since then. I was a football player though, I enjoyed myself playing foot ball. Mooting etc took a back seat but I do encourage students to participate in such activities too, as much as they can. However, everyone must know how to manage their time. That is absolutely important.

  1. Okay, now sir, if somebody who is in law school decides to appear for the judicial services exam, which are the more important subjects one must focus upon?

That entirely depends upon the syllabus you see. Every state has a different syllabus, you must look at the syllabus and decide which subjects to focus more upon. In Maharashtra, for prelims, Constitution, IPC etc are important. For Mains though, procedural laws are very important. The reason why Mains are challenging is because at law school, we are made to write lengthy answers which also have a lot of unnecessary stuff. For Mains on the contrary, the answer must be qualitative, short and crisp.

  1. Lets’s talk a little about your experience of working at an LPO. How was that like?

To be honest, it would be very tiring, so much so that I did not have any time for preparation. I eventually left the company.

  1. So let’s talk a little about the Interview stage, there are lot of myths floating around. Please tell us about it.

I personally found it to be the most difficult. The Chairman of the MPSC and one High Court judge were on the panel. Most questions they asked were related to Constitutional Law. For eg. They asked me about the commissions that have been founded on the basis of DPSPs. They didn’t ask me any practical questions since I had never practiced. I remember there was a question, what do you mean by Amazon? I was surprised. I said something about the shopping website but they weren’t convinced. I then talked about the Amazon river basin and the forest etc. I was embarrassed. I later realised they were trying to check my presence of mind. That was my last question. The interview ran into about half an hour. I was the last person to be interviewed that day.

  1. What is the most important thing in an interview?

See, the one thing that matters is that you must be honest. Honesty is very important. You must never mislead. I myself answered many questions with “I do not know”. You must be hard working and honest, that is the most important thing. You must never try to mislead people sitting on the other side as they know far more than you do.

  1. How important are reference books for the purpose of preparing for Judiciary?

So you see, like other students, while in college, for the major portion of the course, we studied only for the purpose of passing the exams. But that is clearly not sufficient. Commentaries are really important. Both as a law student in general as well as for judiciary and for practicing lawyers, commentaries are important for understanding the law better and to understand the various aspects connected to the law. Moreover, you learn about the legislative history too, which further helps you understand the purpose behind the enactment of the law. All in all, studying from commentaries helps you form a comprehensive understanding and opinion of the law. A word of caution though, you must restrict the scope of the number of commentaries you read. Read some but those should be the good ones.

  1. How important are subjects taught as part of the B.A. or the B.B.A course in law or in judicial services?

Well, you must understand that law cannot be studied in isolation. You must study every subject seriously because if you look at it a little closely, all the subjects you study are somehow related to the law or its evolution. Let me give you an example, studying sociology helps you understand how the society functions, and as such, it helps you understand if a certain law is good or bad for the society, what its impacts are. It will help you contribute more to the process of reforming the society using the law. It is also important to know these subjects from the point of view of writing a good essay in the Mains examination because there you have to put forth your perspective.

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