14. PREPARATION FOR THE CASE
The year's stay in Pretoria
was a most valuable experience in my life. Here it was that I had opportunities
of learning public work and acquired some measure of my capacity for it.
Here it was that the religious spirit within me became a living force,
and here too I acquired a true knowledge of legal practice. Here I learnt
the things that a junior barrister learns in a senior barrister's chamber,
and here I also gained confidence that I should not after all fail as a
lawyer. It was likewise here that I learnt the secret of success as a lawyer.
Dada Abdulla's was no small
case. The suit was for £40,000. Arising out of business transactions,
it was full of intricacies of accounts. Part of the claim was based on
promissory notes, and part on the specific performance of promise to deliver
promissory notes. The defence was that the promissory notes were fraudulently
taken and lacked sufficient consideration. There were numerous points of
fact and law in this intricate case.
Both parties had engaged the
best attorneys and counsel. I thus had a fine opportunity of studying their
work. The preparation of the plaintiff's case for the attorney, and the
sorting of facts in support of his case, had been entrusted to me. It was
an education to see how much the attorney accepted, and how much he rejected
from my preparation, as also to see how much use the counsel made of the
brief prepared by the attorney. I saw that this preparation for the case
would give me a fair measure of my powers of comprehension and my capacity
for marshalling evidence.
I took the keenest interest
in the case. Indeed I threw myself into it. I read all the papers pertaining
to the transactions. My client was a man of great ability and reposed absolute
confidence in me, and this rendered my work easy. I made a fair study of
book-keeping. My capacity for translation was improved by having to translate
the correspondence, which was for the most part in Gujarati.
Although, as I have said before,
I took a keen interest in religious communion and in public work and always
gave some of my time to them, they were not then my primary interest. The
preparation of the case was my primary interest. Reading of law and looking
up law cases, when necessary, had always a prior claim on my time. As a
result, I acquired such a grasp of the facts of the case as perhaps was
not possessed even by the parties themselves, inasmuch as I had with me
the papers of both the parties.
I recalled the late Mr. Pincutt's
advice--facts are three-fourths of the law. At a later date it was amply
borne out by that famous barrister of South Africa, the late Mr. Leonard.
In a certain case in my charge, I saw that though justice was on the side
of my client, the law seemed to be against him. In despair I approached
Mr. Leonard for help. He also felt that the facts of the case were very
strong. He exclaimed, 'Gandhi, I have learnt one thing, and it is this,
that if we take care of the facts of a case, the law will take care of
itself. Let us dive deeper into the facts of this case.' With these words
he asked me to study the case further and then see him again. On a re-examination
of the facts I saw them in an entirely new light, and I also hit upon an
old South African case bearing on the point. I was delighted, and went
to Mr. Leonard and told him everything, 'Right,' he said, 'we shall win
the case. Only we must bear in mind which of the judges takes it.'
When I was making preparation
for Dada Abdulla's case, I had not fully realized this paramount importance
of facts. Facts mean truth, and once we adhere to truth, the law comes
to our aid naturally. I saw that the facts of Dada Abdulla's case made
it very strong indeed, and that the law was bound to be on his side. But
I also saw that the litigation, if it were persisted in, would ruin the
plaintiff and the defendant, who were relatives and both belonged to the
same city. No one knew how long the case might go on. Should it be allowed
to continue to be fought out in court, it might go on indefinitely and
to no advantage of either party. Both, therefore, desired an immediate
termination of the case, if possible.
I approached Tyeb Sheth and
requested and advised him to go to arbitration. I recommended him to see
his counsel. I suggested to him that if an arbitrator commanding the confidence
of both parties could be appointed, the case would be quickly finished.
The lawyers' fees were so rapidly mounting up that they were enough to
devour all the resources of the clients, big merchants as they were. The
case occupied so much of their attention that they had no time left for
any other work. In the meantime mutual ill-will was steadily increasing.
I became disgusted with the profession. As lawyers, the counsel on both
sides were bound to rake up points of law in support of their own clients.
I also saw for the first time that the winning party never recovers all
the costs incurred. Under the Court Fees Regulation there was a fixed scale
of costs to be allowed as between party and party, the actual costs as
between attorney and client being very much higher. This was more than
I could bear. I felt that my duty was to befriend both parties and bring
them together. I strained every nerve to bring about a compromise. At last
Tyeb Sheth agreed. An arbitrator was appointed, the case was argued before
him, and Dada Abdulla won.
But that did not satisfy me.
If my client were to seek immediate execution of the award, it would be
impossible for Tyeb Sheth to meet the whole of the awarded amount, and
there was an unwritten law among the Porbandar Memans living in South Africa
that death should be preferred to bankruptcy. It was impossible for Tyeb
Sheth to pay down the whole sum of about £37,000 and costs. He meant
to pay not a pie less than the amount, and he did not want to be declared
bankrupt. There was only one way. Dada Abdulla should allow him to pay
in moderate instalments. He was equal to the occasion, and granted Tyeb
Sheth instalments spread over a very long period. It was more difficult
for me to secure this concession of payment by instalments than to get
the parties to agree to arbitration. But both were happy over the result,
and both rose in the public estimation. My joy was boundless. I had learnt
the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human
nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of
a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly
burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my
practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises
of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby--not even money, certainly
not my soul.