XLV. SHARP PRACTICE?
I had no doubt about the soundness
of my advice, but I doubted very much my fitness for doing full justice
to the case. I felt it would be a most hazardous undertaking to argue such
a difficult case before the Supreme Court, and I appeared before the Bench
in fear and trembling.
As soon as I referred to the
error in the accounts, one of the judges said:
'Is not this sharp practice,
I boiled within to hear this
charge. It was intolerable to be accused of sharp practice when there was
not the slightest warrant for it.
'With a judge prejudiced from
the start like this, there is little chance of success in this difficult
case,' I said to myself. But I composed my thoughts and answered:
'I am surprised that your Lordship
should suspect sharp practice without hearing me out.'
'No question of a charge,' said
the judge. 'It is a mere suggestion.'
'The suggestion here seems to
me to amount to a charge. I would ask your Lordship to hear me out, and
then arraign me if there is any occasion for it.'
'I am sorry to have interrupted
you.' replied the judge. 'Pray do go on with your explanation of the discrepancy.'
I had enough material in support
of my explanation. Thanks to the judge having raised this question, I was
able to rivet the Court's attention on my argument from the very start.
I felt much encouraged, and took the opportunity of entering into a detailed
explanation. The Court gave me a patient hearing, and I was able to convince
the judges that the discrepancy was due entirely to inadvertence. They
therefore did not feel disposed to cancel the whole award, which had involved
The opposing counsel seemed
to feel secure in the belief that not much argument would be needed after
the error had been admitted. But the judges continued to interrupt him,
as they were convinced that the error was a slip which could easily be
rectified. The counsel laboured hard to attack the award, but the judge
who had originally started with the suspicion had now come round definitely
to my side.
'Supposing Mr. Gandhi had not
admitted the error, what would you have done?' he asked.
'It was impossible for us to
secure the services of a more competent and honest expert accountant than
the one appointed by us.'
'The Court must presume that
you know your case best. If you cannot point out anything beyond the slip
which any expert accountant is liable to commit, the Court will be loath
to compel the parties to go in for fresh litigation and fresh expenses
because of a patent mistake. We may not order a fresh hearing when such
an error can be easily corrected,' continued the judge.
And so the counsel's objection
was overruled. The Court either confirmed the award, with the error rectified,
or ordered the arbitrator to rectify the error, I forget which.
I was delighted. So were my
client and senior counsel; and I was confirmed in my conviction that it
was not impossible to practise law without compromising truth.
Let the reader, however, remember
that even truthfulness in the practice of the profession cannot cure it
of the fundamental defect that vitiates it.