Friday, June 9, 2023

Raising the Bar

On the second anniversary of his death, we remember the late Amarendra Sharan, the brilliant, kind and generous lawyer we were lucky enough to know and work closely with

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By Shorya Bari

On 12.08.2019, Amarendra Sharan, senior advocate, former Additional Solicitor General of India, and our mentor, passed away suddenly. On the second anniversary of his death, we remember the brilliant, kind and generous lawyer we were lucky enough to know and work closely with. It was purely a stroke of good luck that we met him at the start of our career. He let us use his chamber out of generosity which we later realised was characteristic of him.

He was a legal luminary with an exceptional gift for understanding the legal points involved in the matters and presenting them with a great clarity in the most complex of matters. Even when sometimes matters came with the caveat that there is not much that can be done in it, with the clients resigned to their fate, Sharan’s ingenuity would bring in a new perspective and novel legal arguments that would, much to the surprise of those clients, turn things around during the hearing. One such case was a tax matter [J.K. Industries Ltd. vs Union of India, (2007) 13 SCC 673] which had been going on for a while. The instructing officers were disillusioned and were sure that nothing was going to go in favour of the Union of India, the legal position being largely already settled. However, while reading the brief, Sharan, in his characteristic way, discovered a novel perspective and a new interpretation of law which had not been thought of earlier in the matter. The next day in court, he argued his case and within 20 mins, this matter that had been going on for over a week, was over, and the judgment was pronounced in favour of the government.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal pays tribute to Amarendra Sharan in verse.

Sharan was well-respected and liked by his peers, juniors and seniors alike. The judges held him in high regard for his professional acumen and fairness. He was proficient in all branches of law, be it constitutional law, criminal law, civil law or commercial disputes. The same is evident from the fact that he appeared in a large number of matters before the Constitution Benches in these branches of law wherein courts frequently acknowledged his valuable contribution in evolving the law.

Sharan was appointed as an amicus curiae in several cases. He strongly believed in personal liberty and this was reflected when he appeared as amicus in the case of Subhash Kashinath Mahajan (2018) where he advocated for individual liberty and argued that jeopardising the personal liberty of a person on the basis of an untried version of complaint, without any verification or tangible material, is against the fundamental concept of personal liberty guaranteed under the Constitution. He reiterated one of the most basic principles of our Constitution before the Supreme Court that there has to be a just, fair and reasonable procedure for taking away the liberty of a person.

Sharan firmly believed that his primary duty was towards the court, which was best reflected when the Supreme Court sought his assistance in a PIL filed in 2018 seeking re-investigation into Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. His report, prepared after meticulous research including interviews with eminent historians and research at the National Archives, brought a quietus to the controversy.

In the matters where he was appearing as amicus or pro-bono, he would put in additional efforts. He always practised the rule that when there is a clash between a pro-bono and a paid matter, the pro-bono matter should take precedence because he did not want a client, who is unable to pay, to be under an impression that access to justice is being denied to him only because he is not in a position to pay the fee of counsel. He was of the view that such an impression would undermine people’s faith in the justice dispensation and in the institution itself.

Sharan was guided by his conscience and a sense of duty towards the court. He was always willing and eager to assist the court in the dispensation of justice. Once, he was sitting in a courtroom, waiting for a certain matter to be called out. At the time, a young lawyer was arguing a case seeking a waiver of the minimum attendance rule on compassionate grounds for his client whose attendance had fallen short due to her pregnancy. Seeing the judges’ inclination to dismiss the case due to the fact that the exam was being held in less than 24 hours, and watching the young advocate falter in his submissions, Sharan got up from the audience and submitted that it appeared to be a good case where the judges ought to grant relief on compassionate grounds. His intervention resulted in the judges granting the relief. Sharan always came to the aid of the younger members of the Bar and had no airs about being a senior advocate. He was down-to-earth and always very approachable. We often saw him passing on helpful suggestions and judgments to young lawyers struggling to argue before the court. He believed that guiding young lawyers would strengthen the Bar and the judiciary.

Sharan felt strongly about the downtrodden and socio-economically backward communities. He believed that affirmative action is one of the best tools. In M. Nagraj & Ors vs Union of India and Ors. (2014), a case about the constitutional validity of the 77th, 81st, 82nd, and 85th amendments relating to reservation, the Bench while hearing the case asked him, “Mr. Sharan, would you have the Government provide 100% reservation?” To this he immediately replied that reservation was not a diwali bakshish which will be given once in a year, but it is a facet of substantive equality and if the occasion so requires, the government is duty-bound to provide even 100% reservation. This reply changed the tenor of the Bench which ultimately upheld the Constitutional validity of the amendments.

When it came to work, Sharan guided all his juniors with graciousness and ease through a challenging, fast-paced, and busy chamber where files would come late in the evening to be prepared for arguing the very next day. Sharan always encouraged us to develop our own critical thinking. He said “I don’t need a yes-man. A yes-man does not add value to my thoughts.”

Another fact about Sharan is that he never scolded anyone. In our years of working with him and through all the errors and blunders we juniors made, being fledglings in this profession, there was never a raised voice or a terse word from Sharan. He would only say, in his usual gentlemanly way, “janaab, you didn’t do good work this time”. It is through this style of gentle nudging that all of us who worked with him felt compelled from within to do better constantly. We learned from just watching him effortlessly argue complex matters and admired his ability to quickly identify the crux of all matters.

Coupled with his calm temperament, Sharan also had a great sense of humour. He saw the funny side of the situation when a junior of his with a propensity to arrive after the matters were over, once on coming to know that a matter was dismissed, asked Sharan if it was dismissed because he missed some points of arguments. To this, Sharan jovially replied that with your assistance, I would have fared better but since you were late, I had to make do with whatever I could. Had it been another, such a situation would have brought about a good scolding, but  Sharan’s disposition allowed him to find amusement in it.

Sharan had a great love for poetry. His knowledge of couplets was unparalleled and he was ever ready with a sher for every situation we found ourselves in. His pat-on-the-point shayari often brought a much-needed respite to an otherwise onerous work day. Our chamber was a place where all of us were encouraged to be better everyday. Sharan ensured that all his juniors had ample opportunities to grow.

Sharan ensured that all of us ate lunch together. Every day at lunch all the juniors not present in the chamber got calls from him personally where he asked where each of them was. If someone was in the vicinity of the chamber, he would always wait for them to join before he started his own lunch. The lunch-time conversations that followed have moulded and shaped the mind of each one of us who was lucky enough to partake, without us even knowing it. 

Sharan’s untimely demise was a great loss to the Bar. The Bar has lost a lawyer who practised law with a humane touch. We, and all those who were fortunate enough to work with him, have been moulded by his personality and are, even today, guided by his memory and the example he set for us.

—The author is Advocate, Supreme Court of India

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