Sunday, June 27, 2010

A must-read for everyone with anything to do with law

 I know that the phrase "everyone with anything to do with law" is broad in its sweep and may even include people who just consider themselves law abiding citizens. Fali S. Nariman's "Before Memory Fades" is a must-read for almost everyone, not just lawyers and law students. The language is so lucid and terms with even the slightest of technicality attached to them are explained for the benefit of readers without a background in law. The narrative is compelling and often humorous. 

The book is meant to be an autobiography and is a strikingly honest one at that. The honesty of the narrative is evident when he discusses his appearing for Union Carbide in the cases that followed the Bhopal gas tragedy. Many including Prof. Upendra Baxi believed that the man who had till then taken a strong stand for human rights, especially by resigning as the Additional Solicitor General of India upon the proclamation of internal emergency, should not have accepted the brief. Many expressed their discontent in very bitter terms in public fora and Prof. Baxi even announced years later that he had made a conscious decision to not share any public forum with Nariman after his appearance for Carbide. Nariman had responded to these statements and writings through his own writings. He refuses to engage in any further discussion of the episode in his autobiography other than reproducing the complete text of all these communications on the matter. Moreover, he deliberately reproduced Prof. Baxi's email at the end of the chapter, giving his opponent the last word in interest of fairness. Whether Nariman's stand in the entire episode was justified or not, I believe that the treatment of the subject in the book is impeccable. Similarly he says that the Second Judges case (Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association v Union of India) was a case he won, but would have preferred to have lost.

The book is much more than an autobiography. It is a short history of the evolution of Indian judiciary, bar and polity. The subjects dealt with vary from the performance of the constitutional institutions and ensuring quality of practice at the bar to reformation of the awarding of the Padma Awards to advice for law students and young lawyers. His Chapter 3, Lessons from the School of Hard-Knocks is invaluable lessons for every lawyer and law student.

It is filled with numerous anecdotes several of which are humerous. I guess the one that would fit this blog the most was when he was appaearing along with C.K. Daphthary before the Supreme Court in a case concerning the interpretation of the Arbitration Act, 1940. The question was whether the question of arbitrability of a matter could be decided by the arbitral tribunal. One of the judges on the Supreme Court Bench hearing the matter had decided earlier in another matter, as a judge of the Bombay High Court, that the question of arbitrability was not for arbitral tribunals to judge. When the judge pointed out that he himself had decided against the argument raised by Daphthary, the advocate replied, "No My Lord. That was a decision of Your Lordship in the Bombay High Court. Now, sitting in this Court, it is open to Your Lordship to repent."

My only slight disappointment with the book is that despite the great standing of the author in the field of arbitration, the references to arbitration has remained cursory and any opinion on reformation of arbitration law is absent.

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