Proven Merit Should Be The Consideration, Equally Applicable For The Bench And The Bar

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Amarjit Singh Chandhiok

Legal Era Magazine in conversation with Amarjit Singh Chandhiok, President, INSOL India...

Legal Era (LE): You have risen very high in your domain and have even been called the “King of the Delhi High Court” apart from being named among India’s top legal luminaries. Has it been quite a struggle?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: I would not say it has been a struggle. I tried to do my job with enthusiasm, passion, and dedication, with a keen spirit of learning and keeping in view the service the profession demands.

LE: The media has often written about how meeting late Justice R.S. Narula, a legend of law, made you enter law as your chosen vocation. Please elaborate.

Amarjit Singh ChandhiokAmarjit Singh Chandhiok: I had the occasion to see Narula Saheb handling a family-related matter. The way he handled difficult situations and complex questions of law coupled with his analytical approach made a great impact on me. Above all, his scholarship astonished me. He was the one who deeply influenced me to make my choice. I also had the occasion to brief him, and on every occasion, I learned something new.

LE: What would be your advice to young graduates at crossroads whether to enter litigation or the corporate world?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Litigation has the benefit of public exposure and the ensuing popularity. It sharpens the mind and intellect, broadens the vision, and helps one in many ways. It is competitive learning as well. In a corporate job, the picture may be different, but experience of litigation certainly helps.

LE: What qualities have helped you reach where you are today?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Simply put, the quest to learn, respect for equality, and human dignity. And then, being modest and ever willing to be further instructed.

LE: Hasn’t making a mark in such a high-pressure profession come with its fair share of personal and familial challenges? Also, is work-life balance a misnomer, given the challenging nature of your work?

Every brief is of the utmost importance... I make an endeavour whether the dispute can be amicably resolved using mediation and conciliation

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: This is common to all professions. Lawyers are at much ease to plan and work. It depends upon how one takes it. Proper time management and prioritization will help a lot. The problem comes when you want to do all the things in the snap of a finger. In every field, understanding of work and the people around matters. Then comes constant and careful practice. My family well understood my long hours at work, but I have been able to manage time for them as well. It depends upon how you plan your time.

LE: What would you say have been the highlights of your career?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Nothing specific. For the sake of record, I may say my appointment as the Additional Solicitor General and as Principal Counsel of the European Union Commission.

LE: Do you feel that the legal profession has changed significantly over the years?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Yes. As time rolls, changes will be there in every field. As new laws and forums are being created, the consequential changes in practice will be there. They are inevitable. We live in a world where knowledge is continuously exploding. The legal profession has substantially met challenges of the time.

LE: There must have been cases in your career which left an indelible imprint on you. Could you please take us through some such?

Amarjit Singh ChandhiokAmarjit Singh Chandhiok: For me, as a lawyer, every brief is of the utmost importance. Then there were cases of public importance, where you handle a brief of that nature or be an amicus. Rendering proper assistance to the court is a matter of great satisfaction. For example, once I had to deal with the food supplied in Rajdhani trains. On enquiry, I found that the food was of pathetic quality. The report went like that. And that resulted in some changes then!

LE: You’ve had an excellent academic record. Do you believe that excellent academics almost always leads to success in one’s career?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Good academics certainly gives one an edge over others, when it comes to competition. However, difference of a few marks may make one lose being a topper in the University, yet he/she can be the best in the profession for his/her caliber or capacity does not depend merely on the marks. There are instances where students who have done averagely well have far excelled as compared to those who were distinction holders. In the profession of law, any law graduate who can read and understand the subject matter of the brief, digest the same, cull out the issues, apply the relevant law well, and present the same ought to succeed. I think that should hold good for any other profession too.

LE: Has legal education in India kept in step with the changes in the legal profession?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Unfortunately not, if we view all the institutions together. We need more qualitatively good teachers and academicians who will earn and command respect. The Bar Council of India needs to prescribe one law curriculum for both five-year and three-year courses. Economic law is the need of the hour, and with changing times, legal education must focus on it more, besides teaching students the art of negotiations and resolution. Justice and Rule of Law are perhaps two of the noblest concepts invented by the wit of man. Conflicts in the Society are increasing day by day. Therefore, teaching students the value of ‘resolution’ is imperative.

LE: What are the qualities and skills one needs to be successful in the legal profession?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Good knowledge of law, good general knowledge, a great deal of common sense, good capacity to understand and analyze, and then present the case. Of course, these have to be coupled with honesty, integrity, sense of purpose, and justice. Of course, the virtue of humility adds value.

LE: Any anecdotes you’d like to share with us about the very first case/matter you handled and your very first court hearing?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Two-three months old in the profession, I was required to mention a matter before the Hon’ble Chief Justice for urgent hearing. I tried my best to memorize every possible sentence. However, when I stood before him, I went totally blank except ‘My Lords’ and could say nothing more. Then, Hon’ble Chief Justice Andley, looking at the bunch of papers in my hand, asked whether I had an urgent matter. His Lordship also asked me if I knew the facts of the case. I just gave three or four facts and dates and the issue involved in the matter. His Lordship observed: “If the roster of the case was with this Bench, I would not let your senior argue and only hear you”. These were encouraging words that induced confidence.

Few years in the profession, I was making a point of law but the Hon’ble Judge was getting annoyed at me when a senior member of the Bar sitting behind came to my rescue and made the submission, on which notice was issued. Years later, I was confronted with the same situation, when an Hon’ble Judge was getting annoyed at a youngster. I got up from behind and went to assist the Court. The Hon’ble Judge was upset and wanted to issue a notice of contempt. Then I told him that I learned that from none else but his own father, who came to my rescue in a similar situation! Another occasion is when the Hon’ble Judge, in the midst of arguments, gave me parts of journals to study and come back to argue!

I come from a business family and I am the first professional in the family. Destiny and inspiration, as I said earlier, brought me here. Once I joined the profession, there has been no looking back. It looks like the almighty bestowed on me only one career – that of a lawyer – and that has come true.

LE: You’ve spent more than four decades in this profession. What are the key takeaways?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Just one thing – my learning which is an everlasting asset for me.

LE: If given an opportunity, what would you do differently in your career so far?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: No idea. I thought of only one career - that of a lawyer. And that became true.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok

LE: On what parameters do you choose your matters?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: There are no specific parameters; yet, I do see if the person and/or body corporate itself has been responsible for the cause or the claim. I impartially look at the problem brought by my client and then see how best I can help solve the same.

Further, I make an endeavour whether the dispute can be amicably resolved using mediation and conciliation.

LE: You held the post of Principal Counsel to the European Union Commission from August 2013 to March 2016. You remain the only Indian lawyer to have held this position. Please elaborate.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: It was an honour for me and my country to be appointed the EUC’s Principal Counsel. EU found me fit and bestowed this honor on me. I am sure there were many eminent persons in this country before me and even today who deserve this position. I had the honor to address the General Assembly of United Nations to get the resolution passed that European Union Commission is vested with jurisdiction to summon anyone, if relevant, including the Revered Pope.

LE: Please brief us about your journey as part of INSOL India and now its President.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: INSOL India got registered sometime in 1997-98 when insolvency resolution in relation to the corporate entities was not in existence. Many Committees were constituted, which made their recommendations, but at no time, the Government thought of enacting Insolvency and Bankruptcy law. For 20 long years, we continued our endeavor to look at principles of insolvency from other parts of the world, held workshops and conferences on insolvency. It is a privilege to be President of INSOL India, which has twenty years of thought leadership in insolvency; no other organization in this country has the same credentials. With the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 coming into force, insolvency has changed the professional careers of many; brought a new professional entity called ‘Resolution Professional.’ All stakeholders are working to ensure implementation of the Code. It adds to my responsibility to ensure that INSOL India moves to greater heights. The recent conference at Leela Hotel, New Delhi, was attended by delegates from all over the country, with speakers from abroad as well. Government, Regulator, Court, and professionals were represented and the debates were quite encouraging.

LE: Please tell us more about your responsibility as President of Council for Conflict Resolution-Maadhyam.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Being the President of Council for Conflict Resolution-Maadhyam, I have the collective responsibility with all other office bearers, members, and the Board. I have an excellent team to work with. I am just one amongst them. Apart from the trained mediators and arbitration experts, we look at how mediation can be strengthened in the country. For many years we have been able to train a large number of Mediators. Many of them are doing pro bono work. Maadhyam looks at the capacity building of mediators. Maadhyam arranged a special course at Pepperdine University in June 2018 for mediators. Plans are on to start mediation clinics in various universities besides imparting more education about ADR and negotiations with an aim to ‘catch them young’. Mediation training programs have been started in universities as well as in schools.

LE: You’ve received a slew of awards in the course of your illustrious career. Are there any awards in particular that are closest to your heart?

Amarjit Singh ChandhiokAmarjit Singh Chandhiok: Yes, the Award given by then Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh and the other by Bar Council of Delhi as the ‘Leader in the profession’ and ‘Leader in the Bar’, respectively.

LE: You were the Chairman of the Working Group under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI). Could you please brief us about your role and responsibilities?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: I was. The Working Group had submitted its report to the Board and the Board, in turn, had submitted to the Government. Working Group was constituted to get inputs in relation to that part of the Code which dealt with individuals. The report is available on the website of IBBI. Individual insolvency/bankruptcy is on a totally different basis. Unlike corporate insolvency, individual insolvency thrusts upon the individual a social stigma. Hence, instead of restructuring, a probable repayment plan has to be devised. Stress on mediation and conciliation has been laid.

LE: How would you rate the effectiveness of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code till date? What in your opinion are the loopholes that need to be plugged to make it serve the purpose for which it was introduced?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: Effectiveness of any legislation is relatable to its implementation. Any new legislation ought to be adequate to meet the challenges of time. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 is one of the best economic reforms brought out. The jurisprudence created under the Code has no parallel in the world and the special Tribunals constituted under the Code, namely, National Company Law Tribunal and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, have ironed out many creases. In fact, the Hon’ble Supreme Court too has contributed its bit to strengthen the insolvency jurisprudence. Within two years, one has seen manifold amendments to the Regulations by the IBBI and two amendments to the Code. This shows that whenever inadequacy is found, Parliament or the Regulator takes immediate steps. Effective implementation of the Code will lead business and commerce moving in a healthy terrain. There are no loopholes as such in the Code. They are being invented by interpretation, which can be plugged statutorily as well as procedurally.

LE: As a Senior Advocate having been practicing for long in Indian High Courts and the Supreme Court, what has your experience been like?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: My experience has been an enriching one. In spite of all odds, the profession is a highly respectable one, provided you treat and touch it with respect and devotion. One always desires to rise to eminence. Law is both a science and an art, and the experience has been to learn both with clarity. In the midst of animated and often complicated and complex questions, appropriate principles and their legal value have to be brought out within a given time. The experience has provided me with a sense of duty and service as well.

LE: You served as the President of the Delhi High Court Bar Association for a record six terms. Please take us through some of your memorable cases in this capacity.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: As the President of the Bar, two cases immediately come to my mind. One, where the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court was enhanced by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi. A Bench of five judges was constituted to hear the matter filed by the Delhi High Court Bar Association and a judgment came accepting the contention of the Bar that the Delhi Legislative Assembly did not have the legislative competence to amend the Delhi High Court Act. The second one was with respect to the amendment of the Court Fee Act by Delhi Government. Many felt that the challenge would fail, but not only one succeeded in the challenge but the said judgment was one of the best constitutional judgments delivered by the Delhi High Court and found place in the Yale Constitutional Law Journal.

LE: You also served as Additional Solicitor General of India. Could you take us through the highlights of your tenure as ASG?

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: I had the privilege to represent the Government both in the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi and then in the Hon’ble Supreme Court. I had an excellent time and learned a lot defending the largest litigator in the country, the Government of India. It was an enriching experience that made me learn how the Government understood the problems of the citizens and how it viewed the rights of the citizens qua the State. The diversity of litigation on behalf of the Government led me to learn many enactments, which came before my eyes for the first time. Each moment of the said position enriched my knowledge of law and the experience to handle more critical cases.

LE: Do you think the Fugitive Economic Offenders’ Bill will help bring to book absconding loan defaulters the likes of Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, and Nirav Modi? Please substantiate your reply.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: As the matters are subjudice, it would not be appropriate for me to make comments. As I mentioned above, any legislation’s success depends upon its implementation. Mistakes of ages cannot be cured over a single night. Externment proceedings over the years have not borne any fruitful results. One wonders what would happen in these cases. The success to get one recent extradition may lend some strength that others should follow. The law with respect to fugitive economic offenders has been made especially after these three instances have happened. Whether the law would have retrospective effect itself is a question mark.

LE: Sometime ago, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (Amendment) Act, restoring the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary. You had spoken in favor of the collegium system with some modifications. Please elaborate.

Amarjit Singh Chandhiok: As a total change of the system is not immediately possible, I would suggest continuation of the collegium system with modifications to make it more transparent and effective. Any system that works with transparency and the intended efficiency will give result. It can evolve. Proven merit should be the consideration, equally applicable for the Bench and the Bar. Mere intentions or plans will not work.

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