Q. You’re a very successful senior advocate with a well-established practice. What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your career and what learning experiences did you have from them?
Ans. I am grateful to the Almighty for his grace and the blessings of several of my elders both in this profession and outside amongst family and friends, without whose good wishes I would never have been where I am today. However, that did not take away my share of challenges and hurdles from my professional life. These are the spice of one’s career.
Being a third generation in this field, I was facing tall personalities for comparison. Mind you, people don’t spare you, instead enjoy seeing you struggle; and gossip on every lack of success of yours. First few years were just the same, few cases and even more limited success. One could get disheartened when compared with the name and laurels of my previous generations. However, I was fortunate my father Mr. Dinesh Mathur, Sr. Advocate, understood these likely issues and my first teacher, Late Mr. G. Ramaswamy, the then Attorney General for India, tutored me well and would caution me before entrusting a task. Both said “We can hand-hold you upto the road, but you will have to tread yourself”. I was always pushed to keep improving myself and never to lose heart even if I had lost a good case.
So the lesson I learnt which got ingrained right from my initial years, was that there is no substitute for hard work, and there is no short-cut to success.
Q. Could you talk about some of the most interesting cases that you have worked on and which proved to be turning points in your career?
Ans. Having worked with the Attorney General for India, you get a once in a lifetime opportunity to handle & assist him in the best of cases. But, real test was when I started on my own. Few of those cases are etched in one’s mind. One such case instance was an SLP by a tenant that came up for hearing before a bench of Justice Venkatachelliah, the then CJI. My senior counsel did not turn up and I was asked to argue or take a dismissal. His Lordship was so encouraging to me, a junior counsel, that he allowed me to address as long as I could. I am still indebted to him, for the confidence and boost it gave me. Similarly in a writ petition filed on behalf of the Canara Bank against some Public Sector Undertakings before the Division Bench of the High Court, I had to argue on maintainability. Though both these petitions were ruled against me, they gave me the required attention and notice, which helped in my later years.
Another case which I feel actually proved to be turning point in my career, especially on the Criminal side, was the Mustard Oil – Dropsy case, where I contested for a Mustard Oil vendor, and obtained an order of Anticipatory bail, when the entire media was against them. That gave me the recognition in this field and kick-started my journey as a Criminal Lawyer.
Q. Just like everyone else in the world, lawyers have been badly affected by the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis. What kind of steps is the DHCBA taking to provide some relief to the lawyers?
Ans. It is true, this unprecedented crisis has hit every arena of life & activities including the lawyers. A vast majority of our fraternity is impacted by COVID-19. As President of the DHCBA, along with my Executive Committee we have taken several steps during this period of continued lockdown & closure of Courts. Fortunately our Honorary Secretary Mr. Abhijat is a very dynamic man with lots of ideas.
First of all, we have been regularly in touch with the High Court authorities to keep assessing the situation and ensure the impact is mitigated & the difficulties faced by our brethren are reduced. We as an association, have also launched a scheme for providing an ex-gratia amount to help them meet the financial crunch. The corpus for this relief measure was created from the donations received from our senior and other members besides the funds available with the Bar Association. Though the amount remitted to such members may to be substantial but it is still a helping hand in these trying times.
The Executive Committee had been co-ordinating with the High Court in even organising movement passes for those who were in desperate need of the same in first and second phases of the lockdown. Further, the younger members of our EC have been aiding and assisting the lawyers who are slightly technology-challenged in their filing, and easing the process for the same in co-ordination with the High Court. On road to return to some semblance of normalcy, we were even able to convince the High Court to allow access to lawyers to their Court Chambers to enable them start their work and access files/ documents/ other material. Webinars are being organised by a number of our Executive Committee members to keep members in touch with academics; and in concert with some senior members of the Bar & the Hon’ble Judges, these webinars are a good source of sharing knowledge & rich experiences.
Q. The coronavirus pandemic has proven that the future lies in technology, even when it comes to the legal field. In your opinion, what sort of technological interventions are needed to ensure continuous and efficient functioning of the courts and lawyers’ practice?
Ans. You may be right that even this pandemic has to be taken as an opportunity to be seized, for certain things especially on technology front even for the legal field. We have ourselves experienced that even in this period of Closure of Courts, we could manage access to justice through the Virtual Courts/ e-Courts via Webex Video-Conferencing (VC) technology, with the Hon’ble Judges giving a hearing from their houses/ Chambers while the lawyers operating from the safety of their homes/ offices, all using devices such as Computers/ Mobile phones. This enabled, at least the urgent matters to be heard and disposed. However, the technology has its limi- tations and teething problems did occur, and the men needing to work on it had to train themselves fast as they were not conversant with it. These things slowed the process and reduces the disposal rates. At least, the work continued in the institu- tion and the safety of men could be maintained.
At the same time, for future I feel, physical Court hearings can not be done away with on account of a lot of issues that would come up when regular / normal cases would come up, especially in witness action/ trials. Even otherwise, the mid-stream technological glitches, tends to break the rhythm of the counsels during hearings. Also over-dependence on the technology takes away the human element, so essential in this profession.
Let me make it clear I am not averse to its inclusion in the system, but definitely against its taking over the functioning of the Courts. I believe for smooth and continuous functioning of the Courts and the legal practice, a hybrid and interchangeable system may be ideal, which may allow several stages of legal processes to be shifted to VC hearings with aid of technology and avoid unnecessary crowding of Courts besides saving the time of the public at large, who needn’t spend time to reach the Courts physically.
Q. Do you think Artificial Intelligence and legal technology in legal research can reduce the burden of lawyers and improve the efficiency of the legal system?
Ans. I think it already has. From the time, when for every research we had to shunt library to library, we can today get every info on the click of few buttons. So, it is needless to say that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would only further reduce the burden and improve efficiency of lawyers and thus, the legal system. However, I would like to add a caveat, technological intervention should be to aid the human power to analyse, work efficiently and not to substitute human elements. Legal profession is a service industry, only a part of it can be inter-changed with aid of AI a substantial part of it deals with human behaviour and understanding of the same. Advocacy is an art, AI may not be able to substitute it totally.
Q. What kind of advice would you like to give to young lawyers and law students?
Ans. As I had said, “there is no substitute to hard work”.
To the young lawyers, I have often said ‘learn to let go of your fixed notions especially those you learnt in the law schools’, as legal practice is a different ball- game; Open your vista, let your ideas free. That keeps the law alive. There is enough room at the top, if you work diligently and sincerely, you are sure to achieve success.
To the law students I would say, enter the profession with an open mind. Remember the great men who have emerged from this profession. There is a time for everything, and everyone, just be patient and wait for your time, else you are bound to fall prey to temptations and unethical practices.
Q. How have you dealt with the unprecedented house arrest due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown? What do you usually like to do to unwind when you are not working?
Ans. Ha ha. The house arrest definitely did prop some funny things up, like playing cards, carrom and scrabble with my kids, which I must have done, maybe after more than a decade. Otherwise, I was no different than most others in this lockdown, trying with little writing, penning thoughts, lots of reading, watching Netflix/ TV and experimenting some cooking, besides the usual chores that one had to do in the absence of the domestic helps. I learnt many things amongst technology applications, which I have generally been lazy to do. Also, our DHCBA work also kept me busy and occupied during this period. I definitely avoided the news, which was only Covid centric and therefore so depressing.
My usual pastimes have been light reading and music. I find them most relaxing and refreshing.
In the end, let me thank you so much and wishing your readers all the very best in life. Take care and stay safe in these times, maintaining all precautions and social distancing norms. May God bless us all.
Mohit Mathur is a senior advocate. He is the President of the Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA).