One of the senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court, known
for some path-breaking judgments this country has seen,
Hon’ble Justice Arjan Sikri
in an exclusive interview with Legal Era...
on April 12, 2013. Prior to that, he served as the Chief Justice of the
Punjab and Haryana High Court, a position he was elevated to on
September 23, 2012. Before that, he was made the Acting Chief Justice
of the Delhi High Court on October 10, 2011.
Justice Sikri has heard cases on arbitration, commercial matters,
Constitutional matters, and labor (service) matters. As a Judge, he has
dealt with all kinds of jurisdictions and sat on the commercial, IPR, and
insolvency benches for several years, giving landmark judgments.
Justice Sikri was appointed Judge of the Delhi High Court on July 7,
1999; Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, on September 30, 1997; and
Vice-President, Delhi High Court Bar Association, in 1994-95. He was
Counsel for numerous public-sector undertakings, banks and financial
institutions, educational institutions, and private-sector corporations.
He also served as part-time lecturer at Campus Law Centre, Delhi
University, from 1984 to 1989 and as member of the governing bodies
of various colleges from time to time. Someone with an excellent
academic record, Justice Sikri in 2007 was chosen as one of the 50 most
influential persons in Intellectual Property in the world by a leading
international organization as recognition of his contribution to the
growth of Intellectual Property Laws via his judgments.
barriers, what do you foresee for the legal
Hon’ble Justice Arjan Sikri: You see, it’s a very general question; there can be so many facets
to it. One facet would relate to the nature of cases that are
emerging because of globalization and how it is changing the
landscape of the legal profession. Globalization cutting across
most barriers has led to cross-border ramifications in so many
areas, like intellectual property matters, international arbitration,
cross-border insolvency matters, etc. with free flow of capital and
technical know-how from one country to another and entities
in two different countries collaborating. If there are disputes, it
may lead to patent disputes or disputes over capital know-how.
If there are commercial disputes which are to be resolved through
arbitration, it will lead to international commercial arbitration.
Likewise, any multinational company which has headquarters in
one country would have set up its business in other countries
as well. If such a company becomes insolvent, it will have crossborder
ramifications. Thus, insofar as legal nature is concerned,
its phase is changing and totally new types of disputes at
international level are emerging.
The other facet is that globalization is leading to the convergence
of laws. In order to avoid the conflict of laws, countries are to
have uniform laws and it is more particular in the aforesaid
category of cases which I mentioned such as intellectual property
laws including patents, arbitration laws, contract laws, insolvency
Yet another aspect of globalization is, especially since we are
speaking of the legal profession, the question of whether
foreign lawyers or foreign law firms should be allowed
to practice in this country or not. So, this becomes
another facet of globalization insofar as the legal
industry is concerned.
The fourth aspect is technology like artificial
intelligence. Many questions are now being
raised and they have in fact become very
pertinent questions like how far is it going
to affect the legal profession. Because it
is said that if you have some problem and
you go to a lawyer, the lawyer would have
some knowledge about that subject, he/
she may study that subject a little more
and come to a conclusion, and give you
some advice on what you should do and
what you should not do. However, if a
computer is programmed and finetuned,
an algorithm is developed on
that basis, the feeling is that it may
provide more precise and more
predictable solutions than what a
human mind can do. Notably, in
America, it has already started, in
a sense that many companies, and
particularly big companies, when
they have problems, they don’t go
to lawyers for advise, especially where corporate practice is concerned, not necessarily that
they approach lawyers now because this artificial intelligence
has taken it to a level where one gets more predictable
results. Otherwise, there is always uncertainty regarding legal
outcomes. Where a particular dispute has arisen, how a court
will ultimately take it, you never know. Even when there are
precedents, the outcome may not be in the same direction. In
a given situation, how the court will react nobody can predict.
By contrast, it is felt that through artificial intelligence, we
may get more predictable results.
So, these are some aspects which I can think of in terms
of globalization and
the legal profession:
First, the cross-border
disputes which are
making disputes more
about the convergence
of laws; and third,
question is about
t e c h n o l o g y
and artificial intelligence. You said that in
America, they have reached a stage where
they don’t approach lawyers and rely on
artificial intelligence, at least when they
are looking for predictable answers. Do you
see that happening in a country as vast and
complex as India?
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: You see, in India, litigation is of a different kind; we talk of
corporate litigation. However, commercial litigation may
be miniscule in comparison with the total number of cases
of varied nature. We have almost 3 crore cases pending in
Indian courts. So, if we say commercial cases in the context of
globalization or in the context of ease of doing business, etc.,
commercial cases may become important from that point of
view. But then, large numbers of cases pending are criminal
cases and they affect the relationship as far as law and society
are concerned. For example, we are confronted with so many
rape cases, sexual harassment of women at workplaces, child
rape and even gang rape, cases of chain snatching, etc. As far
as the Indian legal system is concerned and particularly for a
commoner, this is also one of the important areas. Artificial
intelligence has nothing to do with that. Otherwise, artificial
intelligence may be important when we talk of economic
progress of the country, ease of doing business, FDI, setting
up more companies, Make in India, and all that.
In the large majority of cases, however, i.e., disputes between
tenants and landlords, disputes between brothers and sisters,
disputes at the grassroots level or at the magisterial level or
at magistrates’ courts or of a civil nature, AI may not be that
of laws. In order to avoid the conflict of laws,
countries are to have uniform laws and it is more
particular in the aforesaid category of case which
I mentioned such as intellectual property laws
including patents, arbitration laws, contract laws,
insolvency laws, etc.
Commercial cases may make headlines, but the commoner
is more concerned with these other kinds of cases. So, as far
as the Indian legal profession is concerned, AI may not be a
threat to the extent it is being perceived in Western countries.
But at the same time, when we come to commercial disputes
and such disputes of international character and talk of law
firms which are mainly catering to these kinds of disputes,
there may be some dent in due course of time, say in five
or seven years, when higher technology permeates India
as well. That is possible because with globalization, what
happens elsewhere is transported to India and other thirdworld
companies that are
developing this type
of artificial intelligence
would like to have a
wider market. Yes, AI
might create a dent
in future in corporate
law practice. But then,
the challenge here
is technology and
whether we allow it to
substitute human intelligence or whether human intelligence
only takes the aid of AI as a supplement instead of substitute.
If we are able to supplement it, then it becomes our asset, it
becomes our strength. That’s a challenge.
the judiciary is beyond overburdened. In that
aspect, do you feel technology can help?
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: Yes, exactly. When I spoke of substitute versus supplement,
in the latter, technology can come to our aid. I’ll give you a
simple example, without getting into the details of technology
or computerization, etc.
It will facilitate case management and court management,
and therefore, a case which today takes say 3 years, we can
make an attempt with the aid of technology to complete it in
two years or one-and-a-half years, which is the international
Then, the use of technology can help us in bunching or
grouping of cases. Many times, we find that a similar legal
issue is involved in so many cases. However, one case is
taken up and the issue is even decided. Still, other cases keep
pending and it leads to arrears. If bunching takes place, then
with the decision in one case, all other cases on the same legal
issues will also stand resolved/decided. This has now started
happening in the High Courts and Supreme Court, which is
helping a lot insofar as the disposal of cases is concerned.
hearings. How is continuity maintained?
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: Apart from case management and time management, how case management should proceed from the first to the second
to the third stage is all there in our Civil Procedure Code.
But then, with technology, we can scientifically monitor it
and do it and keep the system going, avoiding unnecessary
adjournments. Case history of each case from its inception
is available on computer. One can readily find out as to how
much time was taken in filing replies or documents, etc. or
how many adjournments have been made in a case. Thus,
litigants can know everything from the day a case is filed to
the date the case is over or even when it is pending or even
everything in between such as filing of notice, objections
raised, removal of notice, refilling of notice, date of receipt
by the other party, date of appearance of the other party,
date when the state files a return statement, etc. Thus,
everything would be available at the click of the mouse, and
if you want to conduct research, you can find out. These are
the advantages of bringing in such transparency. And, it has
already started happening.
pushing for digitalization and is very
ambitious about it. So, I believe that the
judiciary is getting that kind of support, too,
from the government.
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: Yes. The good thing is that for the last number of years,
governments have been encouraging digitalization. This
government has also done a lot. They are ready to pump in
the money into the judiciary. Let there be digitalization, let
there be computerization. So, we are trying to achieve all
these, and another advantage of technology is that all high
courts will be connected with each other as well as with the
Supreme Court. So, if one high court has decided on one
issue, another on a different issue, all judgments are available
and can be collated, consolidated at one place.
Suppose the Bombay High Court has given one judgment
and a similar issue has come up before the Delhi High Court.
People may not know about the Bombay High Court order.
However, with technology, it can be accessed and even
connected at one place where it is there for all to see.
Secondly, this facilitates research on particular topics. In
earlier times, when the SC would decide a particular issue
or even high courts decided, it would be known only if and
when it was published in a book or a journal, but now, the
judgment is uploaded within an hour of its pronouncement
and is there for everyone to refer to.
There is also a move to connect all libraries of all high courts
and district courts; so, district courts which don’t have
sufficient books will be able to access the libraries of any of
the high courts and even the Supreme Court. These are some
of the areas where digitalization will help.
I’ll give you a small example on how it cuts down time. An
issue is being argued before a district court or even before a
high court and the Judge may go on listening for two to three
hours, but if he/she is told that just a day before, the Supreme
Court had already given a verdict on the same question of law, the Judge can just follow the verdict and decide the
case. This will save a lot of time. This time is then available to
decide other cases. These are some of the advantages.
judgment on the entry of foreign law firms
and lawyers. What are your comments on
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: Personally speaking, I would say that fly in, fly out as far as
advisory work is concerned can be done, but they cannot
appear in courts. Yes, we should not have a complete ban on
it, but with one condition of “reciprocity”. So, I should allow,
say, lawyers coming from England, they should be allowed to
practice and appear in courts here provided our lawyers are
permitted in English courts. Likewise, if there is reciprocity
between any two countries, it should be encouraged because
once we talk of globalization, our lawyers too would want to
appear in other courts. There is a very famous case going on in
the Singapore Supreme Court on the Daiichi Sankyo matter;
on one side, the lawyer is Gopal Subramanium and on the
other side is Harish Salve. There, the high court had refused
permission, but the Supreme Court granted permission. So,
two Indian lawyers will be arguing in the Supreme Court of
Singapore. On the basis of reciprocity, suppose a lawyer from
Singapore wants to come and argue in an Indian court, we,
too, should permit it.
fraternity is skeptical about it [fly in, fly out
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: Yes, there is skepticism. On the corporate side, however,
insofar as advisory work is concerned, the judgment has
permitted fly in and fly out. That is allowed. We are now
talking about appearance in courts.
Singh Brothers of Ranbaxy, the Supreme
Court said that it cannot change what the
Singapore Tribunal has said. Please comment.
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: Frankly speaking, I have not gone deep into the merits of that
case, so I won’t be able to make much comment. But then,
generally speaking, this is a matter which can be argued on
both sides. I have read the debates in newspapers. The Singh
Brothers of Ranbaxy feel that there were very important
issues which went to the root of the matter, and therefore, in
order to give complete justice, the court should have looked
into it. But then, the other side is that the matter has already
gone to the Singapore Court and it is for that Court to decide
such issues, which has the necessary jurisdiction, and we
should honor the doctrine of comity of courts, i.e., one court
should give respect to the decisions of the other court. This is
a common law principle.
of interest between the right to privacy as a
fundamental right and the Aadhaar issue.
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: I won’t be able to comment because the matter is going on
and I am a part of the bench. We can’t comment on pending
on passive euthanasia. Kindly provide your
thoughts on this.
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: As I said, in that case, there are certain issues which fall in the
category of hard cases and they become challenging for the
judiciary to decide because if a case comes before a court,
the court has to take it up; the court can’t say “sorry, we are
not deciding it”. We have to decide it one way or the other.
Now, euthanasia is one issue which has moral and ethical
tones; this is one issue which has philosophical aspects as well,
and when we look at the matter from the moral or ethical or
philosophical or even religious point of view, no person has the
right to take his/her own life. We don’t say that suicide should
be permitted at all. There is no right to die, but right to die in
a dignified manner is there. Human dignity gives a person
right to choice, i.e., persons have the right to lead their
life in the manner they want. The question is to what
extent this right should be allowed when it comes to
a situation where a person is in a vegetative state and
is brain dead. Here, the issue of euthanasia comes.
Though active euthanasia is not permitted, the issue
in the said case was as to whether passive euthanasia
should be allowed, namely, choice is given to
the person or his/her
relatives not to take
aid of machines to
keep such a patient
As I said, such
cases fall in
the category of
hard cases. So
the question is
“when we discuss
a matter from
morality, ethical, or
philosophical point of
view, I have discussed in the
judgment as well that these are issues
where there would be two opposite views and
both would appear to be equally strong.
One view on certain moral standards
would be that passive euthanasia be
permitted, whereas another view,
adopting different morality standards,
would say that it should not be permitted.
Now, in this process, therefore, whatever
decision you give, there are going to be two
viewpoints. In such cases, what are Judges supposed
to do? A Judge is supposed to decide even such cases
on the application of some legal or constitutional
principles. Therefore, what we held in that case was
that if one looks into the issue from the morality or philosophical angle, the decision may go either way. However,
the legal norm was formulated on the application of Article 21
of the Constitution which ensures the right to life and liberty.
The Court held that human dignity is a part of that right; even
right to privacy is a part of right to life. And when we talk of
dignity, dignity includes, as I said, the right to die with dignity.
And once we expanded this legal norm of dignity, it was easy
to lean in favor of euthanasia. On that very basis, we could
expand the idea of passive euthanasia by giving the right to
write a ‘living will’ ‘advance directive’ as per which a person
when he/she is in good health can always express his/her desire
not to have the aid of life-prolonging machines like ventilators,
etc., when he/she is declared brain dead or is in a vegetative
state. This amounts to giving him a right to allow nature to take
its own course so that he/she can die peacefully. Of course,
there may be a possibility of misuse. However, the Court has
tried to take due care by laying down guidelines and
procedures to avoid such misuse.
Hon’ble Justice A.K. Sikri: There are many youngsters who are joining
corporate practice. My first advice is to take up
litigation. I always say that litigation is more
challenging, more exciting, more adventurous than
corporate; corporate may in the beginning attract
the younger generation because of the higher
starting salary, remuneration, etc. and you may
not earn the same kind of money in the beginning
in litigation. But if a person is hardworking and
has studied his/her subject properly and acquired
good knowledge and has the requisite skills of
oratory and writing, etc. which are required to
become a good lawyer, then in the long run,
litigation practice is much better. After four or five
years, you will find corporate work monotonous,
where you are doing the same thing every day.
Besides, with computerization, they would have to
take a draft of any particular agreement, tweak it
here and there as per their specific needs. So, it’s the
same work like a robot. On the other hand, every day is
a challenge in litigation. When you get a particular order
from a court in favor of your client, you feel so elated. And
secondly, we have those marginalized sections of society and
those who are the victims of crime and if you are able to get
justice for such persons, the sense of fulfillment is something
which money can never buy. Even if you do that case for
free, you will find that it is more important and gives you
more satisfaction than the case where you have charged
lakhs of rupees.
So, this kind of excitement, adventure, sense of fulfillment,
and every day doing something for society I would say is
what litigation is all about. My other advice is to work hard,
work with honesty, and never try to take short-cuts. With hard
work and honesty of purpose, success would knock your door