Raju Ramchandran joined the bar in July 1976 at the chambers of MK Ramamurthi. He qualified as an Advocate-on-Record in the Supreme Court of India and was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court in September, 1996 at the age of 42. He was elected as Vice-President of the Supreme Court Bar Association for 2001 – 2002. In 2002 the NDA Government appointed him as an Additional Solicitor General of India and he remained so till the change of government in 2004. He has argued several important cases in the Supreme Court and various High Courts in various branches of law including Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Service Law, Admiralty Law, Civil Law and Copyright Law. He was an amicus curae in deciding the appeal of Ajmal Kasab in relation to his conviction in the 2008 Mumbai attacks case. He also acted as an amicus curae in the Gulbarg Society case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots. He had donated his fees in the Mumbai attack case to the legal service authority which was directed to be distributed among family members of the eighteen state policemen and other security personnel who sacrificed their lives in the 26/11 anti-terror operations. This was described as an act of “high professional ethics” and was appreciated by the Supreme Court of India. He was the counsel for the Justice Sawant Committee under the Judges Inquiry Act-1968, which probed the charges against Justice V Ramaswami. He also represented the state of Kerala before the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, besides the Justice RS Pathak Inquiry Committee, which inquired into issues arising from the Volcker Report. Mr.Ramachandran speaks to Lawz in an exclusive interview.
My long journey of 40 years of journey in the profession has been an exciting one. It has been a roller coaster ride. I have seen the Supreme Court of India change from a Court which had just four court rooms to a Court with fifteen Court rooms. There has been a vast increase in the number of lawyers and judges. I have risen from the ranks not in the sense of a trial court lawyer to the Supreme Court bar but from a filing Advocate On Record (AOR) to a Sr. Advocate. It has been a very rewarding time for me in spite of the ups and downs. It has given me fulfilment and recognition. I am a first generation lawyer. I actually wanted to become a journalist and so in the gap between school and college I started attending a course in journalism. A teacher there taught us Press Law and that meant learning the of the basics of the Constitution of India. He made law come alive. In my three years at St. Stephens College, when I had not fully made up my mind, the Kesavananda Bharati case was being argued in the Supreme Court. I got interested and began to attend hearings in the court.
“I was invited to become the ASG by the then Attorney General Mr. Soli Sorabjee ”
The first lawyer I ever heard arguing in the court was Palkhivala and the second lawyer I heard was Seervai. I was fascinated by the grandeur of Constitutional Law. I forgot all about journalism and decided to study law. Things are easier for a lawyer starting today. My experience would be confined to lawyers practising in High Courts and the Supreme Court. The profession has become more democratic, less hereditary and dynastic. Today, you can be confident that if you have a good record, you will be taken in a senior’s chamber irrespective of whether you are some ones son or daughter. In the non-litigation sector it hardly matters who you are. Of course certain law firms would also accommodate children of Senior Advocates and Judges but there is a very fair chance of consideration based on merits. It is understood today that a junior will be decently, and that he or she doesn’t have to depend on financial support from home. When I started as a lawyer, in 1976, the legal profession was not a very lucrative profession. It was the pre liberalisation age. It was understood that initial years would be a struggle as most seniors did not pay at all. But I was fortunate in that regard, since I was paid. It wasn’t very easy, of course, I had to supplement my income by taking drafting work from other lawyers and writing head notes for Supreme Court Cases (SCC). But, I am glad it was that way because early financial success makes one complacent and a little insensitive. So without trying to say that I have seen hard times (I haven’t), I have come up the hard way. Also, since in my early years I did “service” matters, landlord tenant litigation etc. the fee level was not very high. But things have changed over the years both in the nature of litigation and the level of fees.
I have always encouraged my own chamber juniors to go abroad and do their LL.M. After all its only a matter of one year. It will help them in their day to day practice, of course, but an LL.M. from abroad, especially if it is from a good American or British University gives one a certain perspective, a vision which will stand one in good stead when one comes back. The standards of teaching in good foreign universities is something entirely different. I have had students who graduated from top Law Schools in India like the National Law Universities and then went abroad to do an LLM, telling me that when they got into these Law schools they thought they were in the best institutions but when they were taught by the legendary professors they realised that they had experienced an entirely different quality of teaching and Indian Law Schools didn’t compare at all. An exposure to the best in the world will always hold one in good stead.
The reality is that the nature of the legal profession has changed. When I had joined, the city like Delhi for instance, did not have solicitors firms except those which were either branches or associates of leading solicitor firms of Bombay or Calcutta. Apart from litigating work solicitors did conveyancing work in terms of sale deeds, rent deeds etc. Today, with economic change, transactional work has assumed an entirely different dimension and Indian law firms deserve to get the best lawyers too. There is nothing wrong with students gravitating towards law firms because they are also making a significant contribution to the quality of legal services. We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the world revolves around the law courts. Having said that I do feel that the courts also deserve to continuously get good talent.
I think time management, limiting oral arguments with written briefs and no frivolous adjournments. Many cases that don’t deserve lengthy arguments get stuck because a judge is slow or find the case very interesting. On the other hand cases which deserve to be heard more are not heard adequately. There is a need to standardize. If the US Supreme Court in the most important Constitutional Cases can have a fixed time limit, why can’t we do the same?
One factor would be the remuneration, which will always compare unfavourably with what is being offered in the transactional sector. What can be very frustrating for a youngster is complete lack of time management in the courts, where one may spend days waiting for a case to reach, which doesn’t reach and then see complete chaos on the other days when different cases are reaching at the same time and he is running helter skelter. All this can be disorienting for many.
I was not by any means ideological close to the BJP which was the leading party in the NDA. I had no “political connection” except that Mr. Arun Jaitley happened to be my class mate in law school. I was invited to become the ASG by the then Attorney General Mr. Soli Sorabjee because I had worked with him in many cases. I told Mr. Sorabjee that I had recently appeared in a case against the government about “saffronization” of text books and that I should not be a cause of embarrassment to him. Mr. Sorabjee told me that I was being invited by him because of my professional record and that I shouldn’t worry. My tenure as a law officer was a short one from November 2002 to May 2004. The NDA was unexpectedly defeated, in the 2004 elections, and so the whole team resigned. Mr Sorabjee was a great leader and we had a very cohesive team. Luckily, I was able to manage without any embarrassment in the court, in spite of the fact that the government briefs came at the last minute and were often incomplete, and also didn’t face any political interference. Mr. Jaitley became the Law Minister in the middle of my tenure, but in spite the fact we had known each other over the years, there was no occasion when Mr. Jaitley called me to tell me what to do and what not to do in a particular case.
In the Ajmal Kasab case, contrary to what many people thought, I didn’t face any kind of threat.
Both were very challenging responsibilities. Talking first about the Ajmal Kasab case, contrary to what many people thought, I didn’t face any kind of threat. I never felt the need to ask for security, though many friends suggested I should. The arguments in courts were conducted in a very serene atmosphere. The court gave me a courteous hearing. I also had an advantage of having a fair opponent, namely, my friend Gopal Subramaniam. It was a rewarding experience. I felt I had done my little bit to contribute to the upholding of the rule of law in the country, which requires that even the worst accused should get a fair hearing before the courts of the land. My counterparts in the courts below faced many difficulties because, after all, they were appearing as counsel in the very city where the deadly attacks took place. I salute them for their courage.
As far as the Gulberg Society case is concerned, I gave a report according to my conscience. I did not face any pressure from any side. It was a very rewarding experience, apart from being challenging.
I think one must start with the recognition that your career is not everything in life. Once you realise that and understand that other aspects of life are equally important, work-life balance happens automatically. Though young litigating lawyers are supposed to have no time for anything else, I was very much part of my children’s growing up. I found enough time to see my children grow. I found enough time to sit with my children over their homework, to sit together with the family over meals. I don’t think I have compromised on any aspect of family life. I pursued my other interests like journalism by writing over the years for newspapers and legal journals and I have found enough time to listen to music, to travel and to “chill”.
I was very much part of my children’s growing up. I found enough time to see my children grow.
I have often said this that the difference between my times and today is that when we were studying law, there were only a handful of us who took up the study of law because we wanted to be lawyers. The others were either rejects from other courses or people who wanted to study law for the purposes of writing competitive examinations. There were fewer motivated students but we were taught by legendary law teachers. Today the situation is the reverse. Top Laws Schools have a majority of brilliant and highly motivated students but they don’t have teachers of their own level and so students are often on auto pilot. The main reason for this is poor pay scales for the professors, which discourages bright people to take up teaching as a profession. The other reason is that in a “public university” culture, seniority overrides merit, and rapid progress is not possible even for the most brilliant teacher.
Interview Published In LawZ April 2016 Issue