Sunday, August 14, 2011

FAREWELL - JUSTICE FI REBELLO

Justice FI Rebello
Picture courtesy Allahabad High court
(Text of speech of Justice Yatindra Singh in the Judges' club on 31.8.2011 on the retirement of  Chief Justice Ferdino Inacio Rebello.)

नमस्ते,
Despite the weather being hot, humid and sultry, a very good evening to the most beautiful and gracious ladies and …  well their matching counterparts, from me i.e. as Mrs. Delphine Rebello, the first lady of the house, would say—Neeta's husband.


By calling me Neeta's husband, she has unwittingly started a new—not a fashion statement as many women do, though she did that too: she is the first first lady of the house to wear jeans—but a women empowerment statement: recognising a man as his wife’s husband. This too, in the legal world, which is, in the words of Phyllida, the lady barrister of Rumpole novels—a male dominated, male oriented profession.  

But ma’am, may I tell you our court has always stood for women's rights. We are the first in the World to recognise women as persons and register Cornelia Sorabji as the first woman on the rolls of the court under person clause on 9th August 1921. Your husband  has put it so well in his report from his desk in our year book,
'This high Court has on its administrative and judicial side  … has been pioneer in upholding human rights as also the rights of … women, children, farmers and others.'

Last year, we were hearing about Justice Rebello joining our court as chief justice. In May 2010, I met Justice Chavan of Bombay High Court in one of the conferences. I asked him what kind of person was Justice Rebello. He said,
'A jolly good fellow and you are going to love his tenure.'
This is exactly what has happened.

During last summer, I was in Uttarkhand. I got a call from the High Court around 22nd June, if I could rush to Allahabad for the swearing in ceremony of the Chief Justice  on 26th June. Well the reason is the same that I got this opportunity to speak today—as my brothers and sisters jokingly put it—my being the senior-most local judge.

I reached Allahabd on 26th morning, a few hours before the ceremony. I was nervous that I was not able to supervise the arrangements. When we took a round to take stock of things, we averted a faus pas—how we would enter the courtroom for the ceremony.

I received Justice Rebello in the Chief's portico but forgot to present him a bouquet. I realised the mistake, while sitting giving him company in his chamber: I became tense. Justice Rebello realised it and told me an old joke about whose profession is the oldest. We all know it but it was relevant at that time,
'One evening a doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer were having a drink  then an argument was raised about whose profession was the oldest.
The doctor said that God created Adam from one of the rib bone of Eve. It must be delicate surgery – his profession was the oldest.
The engineer said, look God first created the universe, solar system and earth from chaos. This must be fine piece of engineering surely his profession was older.
The lawyer who was already tipsy raised his glass and said but who created the chaos.' 
Justice Rebello was just trying to comfort me, mismanagement does happen, don't bother. I laugh, tension is gone, and I relax.

5th of July, Justice Rebello's first day in the court—morning tea time.  He was sitting in special appeal jurisdiction i.e. appeal against the judgement of a single judge of our court.  He says,
'I have read the judgements in the appeals. They are short, crisp, and to the point. This is how privy council used to write the judgements; this is how they should  be written.'
We felt elated, inspired. This was exactly what he did during his tenure. He saw our good points, highlighted them, and overlooked our shortcoming—well, who does not have them: this is how a leader should act. In his words, from the report from his desk,
' Despite adverse conditions, the judges of the subordinate court ... have the highest productivity (disposal of cases per judge).

The effort of my … colleagues  becomes more important … they disposed off work of three judges.'

It is not only with us that things improved. The lawyers too responded positively.  Three days were lost in Lucknow due to the lawyers' strike  but it was a matter unconnected with the judicial functioning and only a day was lost at Allahabad as sympathy for the Lucknow bar.

Justice Rebello not only inspired us with his words but led us by example.

He has decided 6 full benches decisions, during his short tenure of 13 months, which consisted 206 days when he could sit in court. In this period, he decided 4952 cases i.e.  more than 24 cases per day. It is about double the average disposal of a judge of any high court. Even on the last day in court, he sat uptil lunch and decided 10 cases. A day earlier, in the AC meeting he dealt with 11 matters—and the quickness with which he dealt the matters can only be realised if one sat with him in the meeting. Even his last day as chief, we had full a court meeting, where he steered a difficult decision.

This is what makes him special in our hearts.  This is, what we would like to say, with due apologies to George Orwell:
'All Chiefs are equal but some are more equal then others.'

Let me end with two questions that have haunted me for some time:
  • The first one to the Supreme Court collegium, why didn't they send Justice Rebello to Allahabad earlier; and
  • The second one to the parliament, if the retirement age of the High court Judges is to be increased then why was it not done before July 2011.

On behalf of the judicial fraternity, their family members, wish you and Mrs. Delphine Rebello, a very happy life. I hope that the government will not let your talent go waste and soon will utilise it. And if I was the prime minister then the post of Ambassador to Portugal would have been reserved for you. Because in you, we have not only found a good leader, a good scholar, but also a fine statesman.

The voice is mine, but thoughts are of my colleagues and members of the Bar.

Oh, I forgot to mention one thing, please don't forget us, when your son Aakash gets  married—who wants to miss Goan feni :-)

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