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Introduction to MC Setalvad

Picture from the book 'My Life'
This is fourth post of the series 'LegalTrek'. The last post was about, Lucknow Bench - Historical Necessity and before talking about the views of MC Setalvad, the first Attorney General and the Chairman of the first Law Commission of Independent India about benches and Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, I thought proper to write about my introduction to that great lawyer. 


I graduated in Science in 1970 with distinction and was sixth in order of merit in the Allahabad University. I always dreamt of becoming a physicist. We were taught Physics from the book titled 'Lectures on Physics' by Feynman. It was an exciting experience. Many of us dreamt of going to Caltech and working with Feynman. One of  us (Deepak Dhar) did so. However, on my father's insistence, I joined three year law course in the Allahabad University. 

My sister got married in 1971. My brother-in-law was an emergency commissioned officer, who had joined Indian Forest Service. In July 1971, my sister's sister-in-law was getting married in Chandigarh. My brother in law was under training in Dehradun and it was left on me to take her there. 

We started for Chandigarh by Kalka mail. It reaches Delhi in the evening and Chandigarh on the next day. This was our first trip out without any elderly person. My father knew Sri MG Arora of Universal Book Traders (now also of M/s Universal Law Publishing company). He requested him to inquire about our well being at the Delhi station.

Sri Arora came to see us at the station. He knew that I had joined law and brought me the autobiography of MC Setalvad titled 'My Life: Law and other Things'. He had high praise for the book as well as of Setalvad.

I had joined the law but was least interested in the same. I spent most of my time in sports and never knew, who Setalvad was. But I am a book lover and I did read it. I had read Constitution in my first year and Setalvad was involved in almost in every constitutional case, I found the book to be instructive.

MC Chagla in his autobiography 'Roses in December' writes,
'No one has contributed more to elucidation of our Constitutional law than he. But for his advocacy and his assistance in the interpretation of the Constitution, I do not think the Supreme Court could have delivered some of the great judgements that now stand to its credit. (page 58)
It was India's good fortune that she had services of a person of Setalvad''s ability at her disposal. The fact that in earlier years, the Supreme Court succeeded in laying  down the law  with acumen and sagacity was due not only to to the knowledge of judges but also to a very large extent to the expert assistance that they received from Setalvad as Attorney General. He can with justice claim that he played a big role in the evolution of our constitution law.' (page 162) 
I will talk about these books again, when I will discus about legal auto/biographies. 

Clarity and brevity were hallmark of Setalvad's advocacy. In the President' s Reference No. 1 of 1964 [(1965) 1 SCR 413], Chief Justice Gajendragadkar paid a tribute to him,
'Mr. Setalvad who appeared for the Judges of the Allahabad High Court addressed to us a very able argument with his characteristic brevity and lucidity.' (page 435)
Chagla in his autobiography writes,
'Setalvad's style of advocacy ... was brief, precise, to the point and paid compliment to the bench by never repeating himself.' (page 162)
Setalvad was an advocate of integrity. He set up high standards for behaviour and etiquette for the lawyers. Setalvad also influenced me and I tried to follow the standards set up by him. In his autobiography, there is picture of him in robes. I liked his black coat, which had collar. Later, I came to know that it is called Parsi coat. I found it more convenient than the prince coat and wore it in courts when I was a lawyer, then as a judge and now again when I have become a lawyer again.

In the next post, we will talk about Setalvad''s views on benches and his impression of Lucknow bench.

#YatindraSingh #Setalvad


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