Gourab Banerji

According to Gourab Banerji, “Arbitration is like a mini-trial. The fun part of it is that you get to construct the case, cross-examine witnesses which is a dying (if not dead already) art in appellate courts. So, if you want to have the thrill of cross-examination, evidence, analysis, case laws and witnessing a case trajectory from start to finish, then arbitration is a great forum”. Mr Banerji’s interest in arbitration began in the 1990s. He fondly remembers his first major international arbitration i.e. NFL v Karsan. He was led in the atter by T.R. Andhyarujina, the then Solicitor General and Rohinton Nariman (as his Lordship then was), who recommended that he be included in the team since he was already a Senior Advocate. He was inspired by the brilliance of Albert Jan Van Den Berg, who was the presiding arbitrator in the arbitration which took place in Amsterdam and was one of the few cases where an Indian PSU succeeded. Mr Banerji was appointed Additional Solicitor General of India in July 2009, and served a full five-year term. Apart from the sheer volume of income tax matters assigned to him, he successfully represented the Government of India in the landmark Italian Marines case. Another interesting case was where the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory death penalty under the Arms Act 1959, where he cited case law from countries such as Kenya, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Uganda and even Malawi to assist the court. He has been appointed an an Amicus Curiae by the Supreme Court in many matters, including the recent Assam NRC (National Register of Citizens) case and represents the petitioner in the All India Judges Association case. A proud moment for him was when he represented the Republic of India as its sole delegate at the UNCITRAL Working Group meeting in Vienna.

In July 2014, Mr Banerji joined the Essex Court Chambers as an Overseas Associate. Essex Court Chambers is one of the magic circle sets, specializing in public international law, international arbitration, and commercial litigation. Apart from his Supreme Court practice, his speciality is arbitration, both domestic and international. He has appeared in Investment Treaty Arbitration proceedings as well. He was part of the sub-committee that assisted the Law Commission in its 260th report on India’s Model Bilateral Investment Treaty. He has contributed to the Law Commission’s 246th report on Amendments to the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. He is the Vice-Chairman of the UNCITRAL National Coordination Committee for India (UNCCI) i.e. one of the only three UNCITRAL National Coordination Committees across the world under the mandate of the United Nations. He was recently appointed sole arbitrator in an International Commercial Arbitration by the Supreme Court. The LCIA has appointed him as sole arbitrator in an on-going London-seated arbitration, governed by English law where both parties are foreign. Mr Banerji grew up in Calcutta. An alumnus of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School, his initial interest was in sports, particularly tennis and badminton. His father Milon Banerji was practising in the Calcutta High Court before he shifted to the Supreme Court in 1979 as Additional Solicitor General of India. His mother, Anita Banerji, was a Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University, a department which she set up along with Professor Amartya Sen.

Shifting to New Delhi in 1984, Mr Banerji was in St. Columba’s School till 1986. Both parents being Cambridge University alumnus, Gourab’s aim, from a young age, was to study law at Cambridge. At this juncture, he met Christopher Greenwood (who later became a Judge of the International Court of Justice), then a young lecturer who persuaded him to apply to Cambridge for an undergraduate degree in law. Consequently, he sat for his “A” levels. Though he was admitted to St. Stephen’s College in July 1986, he left after three months for Cambridge in October that year. The undergraduate years at Cambridge played a major role in shaping him. He graduated with First Class (Honors) in 1989. He was awarded the Norah Hunter Dias Prize, and was a Bundy Scholar. He was called to the Bar from Lincoln’s Inn in 1990. Though offered a pupillage, he was quite clear that he intended to return to Delhi to practice mainly in the Supreme Court.

Apart from his father’s guidance, he has inherited a massive library and subscribes to over 65 Indian and foreign journals. His collection is spread over two libraries in Maharani Bagh and Nizamuddin. He is interested in history, particularly the heritage of Delhi. His wife, Dr Swapna Liddle, is a critically acclaimed historian who has authored Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of New Delhi and Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi.

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