Mr Pawan Reley is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India having his independent practice at New Delhi. He holds a degree in BA LLB (Hons.) from School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University). He is also the Co-founder of NIEV Judicial Education, an organisation consisting of teachers, advocates, authors and academicians committed towards training students for judicial examinations. Mr Reley in this interview with Patel Sharan Goud, SCC Online and EBC Student Ambassador, School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University) shares his experiences and challenges in litigation practice as a first generation lawyer, the driving force behind numerous “pro bono” initiatives directed to serve the society and his bit of advice to young budding lawyers.
- To begin this interview, please introduce yourself to our readers apart from your law background?
I belong to a middle class family in Panna, M.P. My father was a teacher in government school. I completed my schooling in a Hindi medium school. I graduated in law from School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore in 2015 and joined the Bar in May 2015 with the indefatigable spirit of serving the country, court and clients. I love to meet new people and learn from their experiences. Whenever I am free, I love to read Bhagavad Gita and the 48 laws of power by Robert Greene as many times as I can. These two great pieces have taught me to be practical and ethical. In short, I am a very simple person who loves his family, profession, and life, and always try to make a balance among the three.
- It is often observed that people have multiple reasons for choosing a specific career path. What fascinated you to choose litigation as your career?
The first thing I would like to tell you is that I am not an accidental lawyer. I remember an anecdote of my 11th class when the first time I got an opportunity to wear a black gown to perform an activity where my role was to become a practicing advocate and represent the “trees” against the “people” who cut them for their survival. My role as an advocate was to tell the mock court to make the balance between “fundamental right to life of human” and “rights of a tree” on which the entire ecology is based. That was the grand magic of black gown, which never subsided in my life. Thus, from my 11th class itself, I was clear that I would practise the law. Apart from this, my father who also had a law degree but could not practice due to his professional commitments, always motivated me to practise the law.
- It is a popular view that litigation throws numerous challenges in the initial stages; likewise can you share your insights and experiences regarding the same.
As far as my opinion is concerned, the first big challenge for any young advocate who wants to practise law is to find his/her right mentor who is not only a good lawyer but also a good human being. A mentor who gives his juniors the opportunity not only to seek adjournments and conduct research but also to argue some small matters in the beginning of his practice. A mentor who does not disrespect his juniors and can show his junior the right path and guide him in case of any need. Though fortunately, I did not face this challenge since my senior Mr Vinod Sharma (AAG, Haryana) was the kind of mentor I ever wanted. The second big challenge for any young advocate is to survive with meagre income in the beginning and continue developing his/her, skill sets. In this profession, one has to prove one’s worth to get more. This is one of the major issues which make many young lawyers reluctant to choose practice. Though they must have patience, come rain or shine and wait for their exponential turn. It is the effect of deprivation only, which teaches us to move ahead in life. The third challenge is to get the independent client when one bids farewell to the senior’s office and start one’s practice. This is where the beauty of hard work lies. The fourth challenge, which comes after getting an independent client, is to retain the client’s trust in him/her while working hard in the case. I have seen many advocates who after getting a client, become nonchalant about the case. Thus, an advocate should be the salt of the earth and work through thick and thin for the client in order to retain their trust. The fifth challenge is to have patience for the court proceedings. Sometimes the court’s proceedings are very frustrating. Often advocates burn their midnight oil preparing for the case for arguments but adjournment is taken by the opposite counsel. Sometimes the item/case does not reach as per the cause list because the cause list was exhausted with the other important matters.
There are many such challenges as stated above which are not possible to explain in limited words. However, let me assure you that an advocate becomes “good advocate” after overcoming these challenges.
- I have observed that you have engaged in several “pro bono” cases in terms of providing social justice ranging from environmental causes to basic human issues such as manual scavenging. What drives you to take up such social causes without any monetary gains and do you think it is an uncalled duty of every lawyer?
In my opinion, the ultimate aim for any person whether he/she is a judge, senior advocate, junior advocate, student passed out from Harvard, Oxford, or any national college, should not only be to serve the self but also the society. This is how human differs from other species. We all have the great conscience to help the needy. Nowadays if you ask any law student why they want to be an advocate and demand the right answer without being diplomatic, ninety per cent of them will answer that they in the future want to have a luxurious life. Hardly anyone will tell you that they are pursuing law to serve society and work for the rights of the needy. I always wanted to change this perception of pursuing law. I belong to a very small town. I have always been in the society of underprivileged and lower middle class people since my childhood. I have seen their struggles even to get one birth certificate from municipal corporation, to get clean water, to receive medical treatment from government hospitals. Even for trivial matters they have to run pillar to post. All advocates must realise their power and authority to question anything and everything, which deprives people of their rights. Law is the most powerful tool to serve society and we are the custodians of it.
- In the recent past, the judiciary has transgressed its sphere, from passing remarks against Election Commission of India as murderers, alleging that the shortage of oxygen supply during the second wave of COVID is a State-caused genocide to quashing of the RBI’s circular banning virtual currency. Do you believe that the court has encroached upon other functionaries of the State recently and how do you differentiate judicial activism vis-à-vis judicial overreach?
The essential feature of Indian Constitution and administrative law is that the bulk of it is judge-made, a product of judicial activism and judicial creativity. Till today courts have discharged a dynamic law creative function. The creativity on the part of the judiciary in India has become necessary because of the legislative inaction and remissness in taking steps to reform the law to cope with contemporary social needs. Consequently, the courts had to fill in the void. Judicial activism has emerged from the judicial review where the judiciary becomes more active in performing the functions to dispense social justice where legislature and executive either did not act or fail. The evolution of the “basic structure doctrine”, and incorporation of “due process of law instead of procedure established by law” are the few examples of judicial activism. However, when the judiciary becomes hyperactive and oversteps the power given to it crossing Laxman rekha of even flexible separation of power interfering into the domain of legislature and executive, is called the judicial overreach. For example, the eminent jurist Shri H.M. Seervai had called the “Second (1993) and Third Judges case (1999)” a judicial overreach where the Supreme Court had laid down its own procedure for the appointment of the Supreme Court and the High Court Judges going contrary to intentions of the framers of the Constitution of India.
Further, as pointed out by you, the remarks against Election Commission of India as murderers by the Court do not seem to be judicial overreach. Since it was merely an oral conversation and not a written order. However, judicial restraint and discipline are as necessary to the orderly administration of justice as they are to the effectiveness of the army. The duty of restraint, this humility of function should be a constant theme of our Judges as held by Mr Justice Shetty, K. in A.M. Mathur v. Pramod Kumar Gupta.
Furthermore, the quashing of the RBI’s circular banning virtual currency, in my opinion, is also not an example of judicial overreach but of judicial review. Because ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the measures taken by RBI were not proportional, thus, resulting in violation of Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution. Undoubtedly it is the exclusive function of the RBI to work in the interest of the banking system and in the interest of the monetary stability, however, while doing so, it cannot violate the fundamental rights of the citizens. The moment measures taken by the RBI banning crypto were held unreasonable and not proportional under Article 19(1)(g), it attracted the activism of the court under the Indian Constitution.
- Mooting is the closest simulation exercise for a law student that offers real courtroom experience. Do you consider mooting beneficial for an aspiring litigant and to what extent does it help?
I believe mooting is one of the best exercises for law students to develop their analytical and interpretational skills. Students develop their art of interpretation because they spend a lot of time on the same problem, unlike real courts where we have 5 to 10 matters listed everyday. Mooting teaches collaboration, teamwork, writing and researching skills, and arguments skills. It builds self-belief. It gives practical experience to the students. The winning team learns that hard work and teamwork ultimately pay off which ultimately develop self-confidence. Other participating teams learn to work harder, to be practical in life, and to move on in life after accepting defeat, which is vital for real practice.
- There exists a huge gap between what we learn within the four walls of a classroom and the actual scenario persisting in the law practice. How can one bridge this gap and what is your advice to law students to overcome the same?
I completely agree with you. The teaching method has not changed since decades in the field of legal education. Still, the theoretical approach prevails in almost all law colleges. It is abstruse to explain all the points here what the student should follow to bridge the gap, however, some of them are extracted hereinbelow:
- Learn the procedural law such as CrPC and CPC as per the practical procedural way. For example, almost all the faculties teaching CPC first take the students to the definition of “decree, judgment and order” and difference among three, then bar of suits followed by doctrine of sub judice and res judicata, etc. Unfortunately, it does not work like this in court. The procedural way to understand CPC is to read first about pleadings (Order 6), plaint (Order 7), summons to the defendant (Order 5), and written statement (Order 8), etc. “Decree, judgment and order” comes in last in court and this is where they should be taught. We cannot expect law students to learn some way and apply some other. It goes the same for CrPC and any other procedural subject.
- Take internships seriously. One must learn as much as one can during one’s internship. Attend court everyday. One should not confine oneself to research and drafting work in the office. One should also accompany the office clerk to file the matter, attend court regularly and, try to understand the language of the court. One should also be thorough with the website of the court and types of cause list, etc.
- One should be in touch with the mentor where he worked. It may help one understand the subjects in case of any doubt.
- During COVID all the court hearings are taking place virtually. Even if one is not interning, one can attend at least the High Court and District Courts hearing taking out sometimes from one’s college time. The links are available for the public.
- Take moot courts seriously. It is very close to the theoretical part of practising law.
- It is my observation that there exists a growing trend in young lawyers opting for judicial services. How do you explain this emerging trend and does your organisation act as a catalyst or a helping hand?
There has always been the trend of becoming a government servant in this country. However, learning resources were less. Good coaching academies were in metro cities only. However, now technology has changed this. A person sitting in Kerala can take the online classes from Delhi. Certainly, our organisation, namely, NIEV Judicial Education acts as a helping hand. Many students want to prepare for judiciary but lack resources. Some are already on education loans. The fee structure of the coaching academy is touching the sky. It was the astonishing fact for me to know that coaching institutions for the preparation of Civil Judge and other competitive law exams charge more than 2 lakh rupees per course. There is complete commercialisation of the coaching institutions in India. In these situations, to maintain equality among the students and to provide needy the equal opportunity, NIEV Judicial Education was set up. We provide scholarships to deserving students not able to afford the fees for coaching institutions irrespective of their caste, religion, race, and tribe. Further, there are many students who want to start preparation for the judicial services exam from their college days itself but as most of the coaching institutions teach from Monday to Saturday, it becomes difficult for the college students to attend these classes due to their hectic schedule in college. Currently, there are 800 students from various colleges who are studying and taking the benefit of pro bono classes in NIEV Judicial Education.
- You are a busy practicing advocate, an author, and co-founder of an organisation. How do you find a balance in juggling these roles?
I do regular practice of the court handling the important matters from Monday to Friday. I take judicial services class for the students on Saturday and Sunday. Thus, it becomes extremely difficult for me to balance these roles. However, I attempt to balance the same. I set my schedule in advance for major work to be done for the next day and prioritise the work wisely. I set a time limit to complete the task. I never leave any work to complete at the eleventh hour. In order to do this, I have removed all social media accounts from my phone, since it becomes a distraction in completing the work in time. Further, in order to multitask, we all should learn the art of delegating some urgent and less important work. Further, my wife plays a major role in tackling things. However, I am still struggling to find a perfect balance in juggling these roles.
- How important is legal research and how should law students equip themselves with their research skills? In addition to this, could you please throw some light upon “exhaustion of research” and its importance in law?
Conducting good legal research is an art. It has a crucial role to play in practising the law. Good research skill is a process that anyone learns slowly. In order to conduct the right research, one should know the real question involved in the case. If the question itself is wrong then it is not possible to find out the solution for it. After understanding the research question, one should focus on finding out the primary sources such as case laws. If a person is not able to find out any cases for the question, he/she must once go to the relevant commentaries to find the same. Because there are many old relevant High Court judgments, which do not come directly in the search, which may easily be traced in commentaries. The primary focus should be to find out the recent judgments of the same Judge before whom one’s matter is listed. If it is not available, then one should try to get the judgments passed by the same court. For example if an advocate is arguing the matter before Delhi High Court, then judgment passed by the larger Bench or even Coordinate Bench involving similar facts can create magic. If that is also not available then one should explore the judgments passed by the Supreme Court followed by the judgments passed by the other High Courts.
Personally, I think the exhaustion of research is when one has researched enough and reaches to the conclusion that no more research is either required or left to solve the given proposition. It is also known as “research fatigue”. It depends on the purpose of the research. For example, if my matter is listed before the High Court for considering my client’s regular bail, I always visit the website of the Court and go through all the orders passed by the same Judge in last week. If I have found even a single order, which has similar facts or any legal proposition matching with my case, then I will not only cite order but also two to three judgments relied by the same Judge in that order. Those cited judgments will ease the work of the Judge since he/she has already read them in recent past. For me, the stage of exhaustion of research comes as soon as I conclude that my research will not only assist the Judge but also will ease him to deciding the case.