October 4, 2022

Is it good for a judge to read the case entirely? Justice Khosla recounted his interesting experience on it

G. D. Khosla was the judge of Panjab High Court who was also one of the judge who decided the case of Mahatma Gandhi’s Murder. He also headed the committee on censorship laws and was also appointed as custodian of evacuee properties after partition.

He wrote many books. His major literary works are Stern Reckoning, our Judicial System, Himalayan Circuit, and The Price of wife. He also wrote down his memoirs as Judge in a book ‘the murder of Mahatma”.

This excerpt is from the book ‘The murder of Mahatma’-

“I have made it a rule never to make a deep study of any case before the actual hearing begins. I usually read the judgement appealed against to acquaint myself of the salient facts and get an overall impression of the matter I have to deal with.

I have always been of the view that too close a pre-study of the evidence and a mastery of the details involved hinder a fair and impartial hearing, because, away from the open atmosphere of the court and without the point of view of the two parties before it, the mind is apt to interpret the whole case in the light to its personal prepossessions. This builds up an unconscious resistance against the arguments of counsel, for though judges are perpetually advertising the remarkable fluidity of truly judicial minds and their capacity for remaining open till the last word in a cause has been uttered, eminent judges are notoriously obstinate and difficult to dislodge from their beliefs and convictions.

I have known judges who come to court even more fully prepared than the lawyers engaged by the parties. I have a suspicion that they do this partly from a sense of their high duty, but also because of their desire to make an exhibition of their industry and erudition. No matter how learned and experienced the judge, if he has made a deep study of a case he will inevitably have formed an opinion regarding its merits before he comes to court. So, he will start with a bias and it will be difficult to displace him from his position, for his subconscious mind will refuse to admit that something important escaped his close study of the case or that a certain piece or evidence was erroneously interpreted. A truly liquid mind is a very rare commodity among high judicial dignitaries.

My friend and colleague Mr. Justice Achhruram has always been a very industrious lawyer. He commanded an extensive and lucrative practice at the bar before he was raised to the bench, and he brought with him his inimitable capacity for hard work and his deep knowledge of civil law. Criminal law and procedure had remained comparative strangers to him, though he had often sat on a bench dealing with criminal matters.

For weeks before the appeal of Godse and his accomplices came up for hearing, he 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.”

Justice Khosla further recounted that on the first day of hearing, Justice Acchuram was cutting short almost every argument of Appellant lawyer by drawing his attention to a number of reported rulings from the various High Courts of India. which was not good because this may show that judge already decided the case and are prejudicial to the case. Lawyer has a right to put his case before the court.

Justice Bhandari who was heading the bench in the case did not like this behaviour of Justice Acchuram and after the hearing when Justice Bhandari discussed this with Justice Acchuram, he 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.”

Reference

‘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