Before coming to a narrative of the course my life took in India, it seems necessary to recall a few of the South African experiences which I have deliberately left out.
Some lawyer friends have asked me to give my reminiscences of the
bar. The number of these is so large that, if I were to describe
them all, they would occupy a volume by themselves and take me out
of my scope. But it may not perhaps be improper to recall some of
those which bear upon the practice of truth.
So far as I can recollect, I have already said that I never resorted
to untruth in my profession, and that a large part of my legal
practice was in the interest of public work, for which I charged
nothing beyond out-of-pocket expenses, and these too I sometimes met
myself. I had thought that in saying this I had said all that was
necessary as regards my legal practice. But friends want me to do
more. They seem to think that, if I described however slightly, some
of the occasions when I refused to swerve from the truth, the legal
profession might profit by it.
As a student I had heard that the lawyer's profession was a liar's
profession. But this did not influence me, as I had no intention of
earning either position or money by lying.
My principle was put to the test many a time in South Africa. Often
I knew that my opponents had tutored their witnesses, and if I only
encouraged my client or his witness to lie, we could win the case.
But I always resisted the temptation. I remember only one occasion
when, after having won a case, I suspected that my client had
deceived me. In my heart of hearts I always wished that I should win
only if my client's case was right. In fixing my fees I do not
recall ever having made them conditional on my winning the case.
Whether my client won or lost, I expected nothing more nor less than
I warned every new client at the outset that he should not expect me
to take up a false case or to coach the witnesses, with the result
that I built up such a reputation that no false cases used to come
to me. Indeed some of my clients would keep their clean cases for
me, and take the doubtful ones elsewhere.
There was one case which proved a severe trial. It was brought to me
by one of my best clients. It was a case of highly complicated
accounts and had been a prolonged one. It had been heard in parts
before several courts. Ultimately the book-keeping portion of it was
entrusted by the court to the arbitration of some qualified
accountants. The award was entirely in favour of my client, but the
arbitrators had inadvertently committed an error in calculation
which, however small, was serious, inasmuch as an entry which ought
to have been on the debit side was made on the credit side. The
opponents had opposed the award on other grounds. I was junior
counsel for my client. When the senior counsel became aware of the
error, he was of opinion that our client was not bound to admit it.
He was clearly of opinion that no counsel was bound to admit
anything that went against his client's interest. I said we ought to
admit the error.
But the senior counsel contended: 'In that case
there is every likelihood of the court canceling the whole award,
and no sane counsel would imperil his client's case to that extent.
At any rate I would be the last man to take any such risk. If the
case were to be sent up for a fresh hearing, one could never tell
what expenses our client might have to incur, and what the ultimate
result might be!'
The client was present when this conversation took place.
I said: 'I feel that both our client and we ought to run the risk.
Where is the certainty of the court upholding a wrong award simply
because we do not admit the error? And supposing the admission were
to bring the client to grief, what harm is there?'
'But why should we make the admission at all?' said the senior
'Where is the surety of the court not detecting the error or our
opponent not discovering it?' said I.
'Well then, will you argue the case? I am not prepared to argue it
on your terms,' replied the senior counsel with decision.
I humbly answered: 'If you will not argue, then I am prepared to do
so, if our client so desires. I shall have nothing to do with the
case if the error is not admitted.'
With this I looked at my client. He was a little embarrassed. I had
been in the case from the very first. The client fully trusted me,
and knew me through and through. He said: 'Well, then, you will
argue the case and admit the error. Let us lose, if that is to be
our lot. God defend the right.'
I was delighted. I had expected nothing less from him. The senior
counsel again warned me, pitied me for my obduracy, but
congratulated me all the same.
What happened in the court we shall see in the next chapter.