October 4, 2022

Gandhi Murder Case-10: Was there any problem between the judges?

For better understanding, read this article-Gandhi Murder Case-9: A Vivid Depiction of the Courtroom at Peterhoff Shimla

The lawmatics Series- Gandhi Murder Case-Part 10

For weeks before the appeal of Godse and his accomplices came up for hearing, Justice Acchuram, one of the judge in Gandhi murder case, had been studying the bulky volumes in which the entire evidence, oral and documentary, was contained. There were -in all 1,131 printed pages of foolscap size and a supplementary volume of 115 pages of cyclostyled foolscap paper. He had taken pains to look up a number of reported cases dealing with some legal aspects of the trial, and had made a note of these rulings. So, when he came to court on the morning of May 2, he showed a complete understanding of the facts of the case as well as of the points of law raised in the memoranda of appeals.

I have always had the profoundest respect for my quondam colleague, both as a lawyer and as a judge, and I shall continue to respect his learning, but his habit of industry had a most unfortunate consequence on the first day of the Godse appeal.

The case was opened by Mr. Banerjee, who started by putting forward an argument that a charge of conspiracy could not survive the consummation of the purpose of the conspiracy, and the conspirators could not be tried on multiple charges of conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi and also of actually murdering him. They should have been tried for murder and abetment to murder.

Mr. Banerjee’s argument was that owing to this serious irregularity the trial of all the appellants was vitiated. It was, as lawyers say, a nice point, and much could be said for and against it; but no sooner and Mr. Banerjee uttered a few sentences than Mr. Justice Achhruram cut him short by drawing his attention to a number of reported rulings from the various High Courts of India. Mr. Banerjee tried, in vain, to expound the law on the subject according to his own understanding of it. The merest reference to a decision which supported his argument was repulsed by a volley of rulings to the contrary. My friend Mr. Justice Bhandari, as the senior-most judge of the bench, felt that he should be the one to guide and control the proceedings, which during the course of the day resolved themselves into an animated duologue with Mr. Banerjee being allowed to utter only a few brief and minor speeches.

Bhandari J. was greatly concerned about the unusual trend which the hearing had taken, and thought that the bench was making a far from dignified exhibition of its judicial attitude in a case which was drawing very widespread attention. He feared we might convey the impression that we had already made up our minds about the whole case and had no wish to examine, the merits of any argument advanced on behalf of the convicted persons.

After the day’s proceedings were over he came to my chamber and confided to me his irritation over the day’s proceedings and his misgiving about the future conduct of the case. He asked me how he should deal with the situation. I agreed with him that the day had been a very unusual one, and, if the faces of the large audience were any indication, we seemed to have provided a great deal of entertainment for the gallery.

‘But he won’t let the case proceed. Gopal, we can’t go on like this. The lawyer should be allowed to argue his case.’

‘H’m, yes. But, you know, some judges like to talk. They just can’t help chipping in when counsel is arguing. It happens even in England.’ ‘Don’t you think I should speak to him? You see, we have spent five hours over the case and we haven’t advanced a single step forward.’

‘Well, you might mention it to him. He won’t like it.’ Mr. Justice Achhruram didn’t like it.

In fact, he greatly resented it, and for the next few days relations between two of the members of the bench were far from cordial. They hardly spoke to one another, and each greeted the other with a scowl. Fortunately, this quarrel was short lived, and was soon forgotten in the complexities of the case and the intricate pattern of the evidence each detail of which had to be scrutinised and appraised. opened a bookstall, well stocked not only with books but with the more popular knives, daggers and knuckle-dusters.

Reference

As mentioned in the book ‘The Murder of Mahatma’ by G.D.Khosla (Formerly Chief Justice of Punjab, who heard the appeal of Nathuram Godse & others and gave his most historic verdict in the case of assassination), First Published: 1965