Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Indira Banerjee hailed former Chief Justice of India, Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, for conducting his court with unmatched dignity and grace.
Speaking during the book discussion on ‘Exploring the Legacy of Justice M N Venkatachaliah,’ organised by the SKOCH India Law Forum on Sunday, Justice Banerjee said Justice Venkatachaliah was extremely courteous with bar members.
He never entered into an argument with the members of the bar and always asked relevant questions during court proceedings.
Justice Banerjee said she was a ‘toddler in the profession’ when Justice Venkatachaliah became a Supreme Court judge in 1987. She said though she did not get to appear before his court, she was fortunate enough to read his ‘erudite’ judgements, which showed the knowledge Justice Venkatachaliah possessed.
She said the former CJI was a role model for any judge. Talking about the basic characteristics of a judge, she said a judge must be independent, impartial and should be a person of great integrity.
Stating that independence and integrity for a judge were interlinked, Justice Banerjee said a judge cannot always go with press reports or social media posts. Besides, a judge cannot always go by what the government said, she added.
Justice Najmi Waziri, former Delhi High Court judge, revealed a small anecdote about Justice Venkatachaliah. He said in February 1994, he wanted to study European laws. He went to Justice Venkatachaliah and sought his permission. As per Justice Waziri, the former CJI hugged him and said that he (Justice Venkatachaliah) wanted his son to do the same.
Speaking on the occasion, Senior Advocate and Chairman of India Legal Research Foundation (ILRF), Pradeep Rai, said Justice Venkatachaliah started as a police officer as his father wanted him to be an IPS officer. After serving for some time as a police official, Justice Venkatachaliah left the profession.
He was third in seniority when he was chosen to become a High Court judge. After his retirement as CJI, Justice Venkatachaliah was offered the Chairmanship of National human Rights Commission (NHRC). However, he refused to accept the same, saying that once he has served as CJI, he will not accept any other assignment.
The then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao met him and persuaded him to accept the offer, saying that Justice Venkatachaliah would be able to serve the society in this way even after retirement. The former CJI then agreed to take up the post and made remarkable contributions in various fields, revealed the Senior Advocate.
Rai said as NHRC Chairman, Justice Venkatachaliah brought out prison reforms and worked extensively in the education sector, adding that the former CJI has always been a voracious reader, who keeps himself abreast with the latest developments in technology, even in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Justice Venkatachaliah had said some six years ago that the courts would soon start functioning virtually. At that time, the judges had refused to buy this thought and told Justice Venkatachaliah that they did not believe him. However, it all came true during the pandemic, when almost all courts of the country shifted to online mode, noted Rai.
He said he was blessed to have known Justice Venkatachaliah for a long time and had the opportunity to attend his court.
As per Rai, Justice Venkatachaliah made remarkable efforts as CJI. He worked on the administrative competence and collegium system. He also initiated the training programme of arbitration, added Rai.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said maintaining grace in the office and retaining the same after retirement was not easy. Justice Venkatachaliah had shone in both. He would formulate the most lyrical prose for discussion during the proceedings. The former CJI stressed on decongesting the legal system and worked towards it till his retirement.
C. Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor of OP Jindal University, moderated the event.
Bahram N Vakil, co-founder of AZB & Partners, among others, was present on the occasion.