By Harishankar Mahapatra
Two years into law school and I had no experience of how the higher judiciary in India works.
In law schools the course content primarily focuses in the verdict but I was interested in knowing how the judge reaches a certain conclusion. Apart from the arguments presented by the counsels of the parties, what other factors are important in the judgment writing process?
Therefore, I decided to intern under a judge of the High Court for a month to understand the nuances of higher judiciary in India.
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I applied to the Odisha High Court’s registry through a contact which I had established during my Death Row Research Project in Odisha.
During a seminar, which was attended by the High Court Judges of the Odisha High Court, I personally spoke with Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty expressing my desire to intern under him. He gladly accepted my request, expedited the application process, and I was asked to join the next day.
The paper work and other correspondence was taken care of.
Interactions and Learning
I reached the High Court, got through the security checks and waited outside Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty’s chambers. I must admit that walking in the Judge’s corridors can be quite an overwhelming experience; being subjected to the strict glares of judges’ can be intimidating.
However, when Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty arrived he greeted me with a smile and (his Cambridge-nurtured) firm hand shake, which was extremely reassuring.
It was important to mention Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty’s foreign education background because probably that is what made him different in his conduct and approach from the rest of the judges with whom I got to interact during the course of my internship.
For instance, I learnt from lawyers and other personnel for individual judges that while other judges were fretful about allowing interns to sit near the judge on the dais, Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty was very broad-minded in that respect since he allowed me and a co-intern to sit opposite his stenographer, sharing the same dias.
He was quite considerate, yet professional in rectifying the mistakes of junior counsels while at the same time he did not show any bias or excessive reverence towards senior counsels.
On one instance when Mr. Kapil Sibal was appearing before the bench, Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty was quite natural in his conduct without showing much adulation and giving him a normal hearing to him, rightly enforcing the principle that the law was indeed equal for all.
But I must admit that watching Mr. Sibal plead was a treat and enriching experience for a second-year law student like myself.
Though it may not even be fair to draw this analogy, but I indeed tried to inculcate his mannerisms in the course of my own pleadings in my moot court competition.
Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty is also on the executive committee of the National Law University Odisha and I could sense that along with his judicial duties he took this job seriously as well.
He would seek my suggestions and inputs with regard to the standards and practices followed at my college in National Law University Delhi.
He is a visionary and put in a lot of hard work for making NLUO at par with other NLUs. He asked me to visit NLUO and give him a feedback for the eco-friendly equipments installed in the University premises.
Moreover, on another occasion I witnessed him consulting with the firefighting officials to install airport standard fire fighting equipments in the newly renovated Odisha High Court building and scheduling mock drills on future dates.
Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty would fondly say that he would retire in a few years time but these efforts he was taking was to facilitate the future of interns like myself who would be part of the judiciary tomorrow, working in these very buildings, it was necessary to care for our security as well.
I learnt from him that apart from carrying out your primary functions it is also important to discharge your duties towards the society that you owe.
My work as an intern would be making daily records of the cases and making notes of the important cases that were cited during the course of the pleadings.
At times Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty would also ask me to make case notes which he would playfully call as ‘homework for the day.’
One important case in which I probably had to put in a lot of effort was regarding the inter-state organ donation scandal in which a contentious issue was in what state the cause of action arose, and which state police would have the power to investigate the matter.
During my discussions with Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty, I tried to draw an analogy of the, then recently discovered IPL Spot fixing scandal, in which the police tracked conversations from different states but the act happened in Rajasthan, however the investigations and arrest was done by the Delhi Police in association with the Mumbai Police.
He appreciated this analogy I drew and upon further research we reached possible conclusions.
His work flow and approach was extremely flexible in other aspects as well since he also sent me to the home-chamber of another newly appointed Hon’ble judge to assist him in the organ-donation scandal case, with whom Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty was presiding in a division bench.
This in turn also helped me build my contacts with other judges.
Mr. Mahanty was extremely kind in introducing me to other judges and lawyers who visited his chambers with a lot of kind words for me, which I am unsure of if I was worthy of them. So much so that one lawyer even offered me another internship during my next vacation.
One last notable experience was a day when the lawyers had called for a strike but keeping in conformity with his work ethics and High Court rules, Hon’ble Mr. Mahanty kept the court open for litigants to appear in person; indeed few did and one of them whose house auction was scheduled for the next day was granted an extension.
After the final day of the Justice Mahanty internship, I was handed a kindly worded internship certificate, wished luck for my future; and I did wish him luck as well, as in my opinion a man of his stature, competence and vision deserves to be elevated to the apex court of the country.