In conversation with Former Justice D.P. Singh, (Retd.) Judge, Allahabad High Court, on his journey from Bar to Bench

Former Justice Devi Prasad Singh was born to late Shri Devta Prasad and Smt Bhagywati Devi on 20-1-1953. His primary schooling was from the government school in his village, after which he went to his parents in Rangoon (Burma) for a brief period where he completed his junior high school. Finally, in the year 1964, they came back to Faizabad where he completed the rest of his studies, including his BSc LLB degree from Sundarlal Saket University, Ayodhya Faizabad, and was finally enrolled in the Uttar Pradesh Bar Association in 1976.

After being approximately 27 years in the Bar, Justice DP Singh was elevated as Judge of the Allahabad High Court from 2003 till 2015, when he retired. While being a Judge, he has adjudicated on several issues relating to constitutional matters, especially concerning the common man. He has delivered landmark judgments on various aspects of law, including the mafia case (Chandrika Prasad Nishad v. State of UP[1]), and on the food scam case (Vishwanath Chaturvedi v. Union of India[2]).

After his retirement, Justice D.P. Singh has headed the Armed Forces Tribunal for three years and then for a year he was appointed as the Head of a committee of National Green Tribunal.

 

He has been interviewed by Ayush Shukla, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from TNNLU.

 

1. Please take us to the initial days of your practice, when you used to practice?

Broadly belonging to a farmer’s family with certain businesses in District Ayodhya. However, I proudly diverted my interest towards the profession of law when I witnessed the royalty in practice while visiting my in-law’s chamber, who was a leading advocate of Ayodhya, Sri Ram Sakal Singh. However, I did not join his chamber after getting registered at Uttar Pradesh Bar Council in the year 1976. I joined the chamber of Sri Markandey Katju (former Judge, Supreme Court of India) and worked for him for about 4 months in Allahabad. After which I came back to Ayodhya and joined the chamber of Sri Ram Sakal Singh. After spending about 6 months with him and he after being satisfied with my work, advised me to learn civil law. So, at his suggestion, I joined the chamber of late Sri Lalta Prasad Singh, where I spent around 4 years, in the civil court of Faizabad. During these years I broadly dealt with criminal cases and some civil cases of my learned senior. On the criminal side, I successfully did sessions trials and certain cases in Judicial Magistrate’s courts. Coming to the infrastructure of civil court during that period, it was not really good and during the rainy season, I just had an umbrella in my hand and I used to run from court to court. While in the winter season under the chilly weather, with shivering hands and body I used to attend the court proceedings. Summer was even more pathetic in the Bar Association of Faizabad. During that time there used to be only one or two coolers but those were occupied by the seniors and we had to spend our time under the shed without any fan or cooler. But even then, I enjoyed the profession of law with passion and hard labour. I remember one of my friends Sri Ishwar Nath Tiwari practising before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, suggested me to join the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. The dream shown by him was revering, so on one morning, I boarded the train to Lucknow, with a holdall and a box in hand. For the initial four months, I lived in a relative’s flat, who was a Member of Legislative Assembly, late Sri Umeshwar Pratap Singh. Thereafter, I anyhow got a 2-room rented a house for rupees 550 per month in the area Moti Jheel, Lucknow.

 

2. What all factors have you considered while making the decision to shift your practice from your hometown, Faizabad, to a new place Lucknow? And what all hurdles and challenges did you face in those initial days of your practice?

My decision to shift my practice to Lucknow and to join the High Court was based on my passion to work on a higher forum to command respect and be able to help the commoners. Being an advocate, it was not easy to find a house. I recollect, in the Mahanagar area of Lucknow, I had paid advance rent in the evening and told the landlord that I shall come the next day. When I reached the next day with my luggage, the landlord’s son, who was about 10-12 years of age came to the gate and handed me back the advance money, stating that my uncle wants to use the premises for other purposes. Virtually, his body language was like – being a lawyer I was not credible enough to become a tenant in his house. I had a Rajdoot motorcycle in those days, on which I with my friend, Sri Farid Ahmed used to search out the whole of Lucknow, but every time I used to tell that I am an advocate, the refusal came-forth. Ultimately, a brother lawyer who had a good opinion of me invited me to a premises belonging to his friend, which was situated in the Moti Jheel area. It was then that I realised that whatever be the status of a lawyer in the court, his credibility amongst the common citizens is not good enough even to let out a house for rent. The second problem which I suffered in the court premises was casteism amongst certain members of the Bar and unfair practice by certain lawyers whose parents, friends, and relatives were Judges. Even for filing the vakalatnama of a near dear to a Judge was a costly affair so that the Judge may recuse himself from the case. However, for the past decade, I have not heard about such practices happening in the High Court. For me, it was a new experience and I remember this horrible experience even when I became a Judge. So, during my 15 years of service in the High Court and Tribunal, I took care that no such situation comes before me involving my family members. I do not remember even one case where my son or relatives have filed their valakatnama to compel me to recuse from hearing the matter. I thank the almighty that even after 6 years, when I visit in any function of the Bar, its members surround me and some say “your lordship we are missing you”. I thank the almighty who gave me courage, wisdom and thought to lead a fair life.

 

3. These days tools like SCC Online have made legal research comparatively easier for law students and law practitioners, as opposed to the earlier method where one had to read and surf volumes of books to find a single answer. So, how did you master the art of legal research in those days? And what do you think the revolution of online legal research has done to the quality of research?

Undoubtedly, while being in the Bar and as a High Court Judge, I preferred SCC broadly because of its headnotes. In many journals, I have found that the headnotes were faulty, but in SCC, the headnotes were always in conformity with the text in the body of the judgment. Being impressed by SCC Online, while being the Head of the Committee, I provided one connection of SCC Online in every district, so that the District Judiciary may reach the relevant cases easily. Even in Bar Association, SCC Online was provided to the members of the Bar so that they can get a copy of the judgments they need. One good thing I find in SCC is that it has started to report foreign judgment which is a revolutionary step. It has enhanced the quality of research, as the same has made it easy to compare the views of various higher courts of prominent countries. Even today, after 6 years of my retirement, being an arbitrator, I have been subscribing to SCC digests every year. Apart from certain books published by other publishing houses, one of my books, Morality in Law was published by EBC in 2012 and I think it was the first book on this subject by any Judge in our country.

 

4. What would be your stand: should a fresh graduate start his practice from subordinate courts/tribunals; or straight away focus on specialisation?

It is my considered opinion that the fresh graduate should spend some time in the trial courts so that while shifting to the higher court, he/ she may have some knowledge of the basics. While being a Judge of the High Court, I have found that in many cases, partially or wholly, a tricky question of civil or municipal law is involved. It was my luck that in the second appeal and appeals arising out of order passed by the subordinate courts, I have given some good judgments which were reported and are being used by the Bar. One such judgment delivered by me was related to compliance with an injunction granted by trial courts. Ordinarily, the injunctions of the lower courts were not complied with and contempt petitions on the same kept pending in the courts. The result of this was that the constructions were raised, lands were occupied, business in the hand of unlawful persons kept on running. So, to solve this, I interpreted Section 151 of the CPC and held that the trial court has the appropriate right to enforce its judgment. The Md Hamza case is reported in CLD. Still then the members of the Bar enjoy the benefit of this judgment.

 

5. What all factors should a young advocate consider while evaluating as to which senior’s office should he or she join in the initial years of practice?

It is my advice to young advocates to join a chamber where the learned senior advocate is fair in practice. He should absolutely be based on merit while pursuing his case in a court of law, and he should never try to persuade the court by any other means. Still, there are good advocates who are better serving society, even though they may not earn that well but they have the required knowledge, and name in the field.

 

6. What according to you would be the skills that the young advocates should necessarily learn from their seniors, and what are the new skills that all the advocates in the law field should learn and inculcate in their professional life?

I think four things are necessary for an advocate to learn from a senior.

  1. Drafting
  2. Advocacy
  3. How to get cases
  4. Patience

Of course, hard work and being up -to -date in law are the key factors. I remember while reading the biography of late Sri Kailash Nath Katju, grandfather of former Justice Markandey Katju, I came to know that he did not get even a single case for several years (more than a decade) but he was regular and used to sit in the library of Kanpur Bar Association, read books and made notes. It was only after a decade when he got a case because everyone else refused it. He not only took the case but also won it and that is what made him famous and created his credibility before the Bar and Bench. On any issue, when people requested Mr Katju for help, he used to be very happy and extend all a helping hand. I also read the biography of Mr Nani Palkhivala whereby I became aware of the fact that he used to read law books and jurisprudence every evening till closure. One should remember the saying – Rome was not built in a day. In other words, a nation is built brick by brick. Lawyers or judges both have got their role to work hard fairly and honestly with passion and zeal to make their contribution so that nation may develop and be prosperous, peaceful and happy. It is the merit that a lawyer should possess. Of course, waiting for a decade is not possible for a common person. In such cases, it is expected that the senior advocates should pay their juniors so that they can carry on their lives and that I have done the same in my professional career.

 

7. There have been various seminars and conferences, many of which were graced by the presence of Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, where the role of alternative dispute resolution has been highlighted, and since you have also played an active role in this field after your retirement, what would be your take on the future aspects of these ADR mechanisms? Will they be instrumental in reducing the burden of the courts?

 

As a member of the Bar and later on as a Judge, we have witnessed dozens of Chief Justices but I find the present Chief Justice N.V Ramana playing an excellent role and justifying his office. I recollect my certain period when Judges were having a little hitch to pass an order in big matters. But nowadays the statements and observations of Justice Ramana are inspiring the Judges across the board, to work fearlessly. God bless him.  Undoubtedly, the ADR mechanism should be strengthened across the board. The encouragement to develop the ADR mechanism by the Chief Justice will be a boon for litigants of the country. I was the Chairman of the Mediation Centre of the High Court Bench at Lucknow and have laid down the foundation of mediation at Lucknow under the leadership of Justice Markandey Katju. Later on, it was carried on by various Judges at Allahabad and Lucknow and now we have got a very good infrastructure at both the places. As the Chairman of the Committee, I have also tried to establish at least one court all over UP to record evidence on video of serious criminals like terrorists in jail and every jail now as I understood has got a video centre from where their attendance may be secure from video. However, I am not aware of the present status of the same. As I recollect, we have given training to thousands of advocates for mediation and other ADR mechanism under the guidance of Sriram Panchu, from Ahmedabad, the chief architect of mediation in the country. But I feel that the training should continue for all the trained advocates, in view of further developments of the field. However, appropriately trained staff and well-trained advocates, particularly at the district level are still needed. It is the ADR mechanism that may reduce the burden of courts, after a good number of trained lawyers are introduced in it. Undoubtedly, mediation, arbitration and conciliation are such mechanisms that shall reduce the burden of the courts across the board. My whole experience doing the arbitration proceeding shows that great service is done by the arbitrator who decides and settles issues involving complex problems. A case decided through the ADR mechanism creates a win-win situation for both sides. I take the pleasure to say that the CJs and CJIs have worked hard to make this High Court deliver justice without fear, malicious intention and ill-will. That is why the country has faith in the judiciary.

[1] 2006 (24) LCD 1243.

[2] 2010 SCC Online All 2339.

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