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Judge recalls curious cases and quixotic decisions

Special Correspondent
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Makes lawyers and judges laugh, reflect and rectify

IN A LIGHTER VEIN:Justice V. Ramasubramanian of the Madras High Court (second from right) releases a book on senior advocate N.T. Vanamamalai and hands over the first copy to Justice S. Nagamuthu. in Madurai on Thursday. Justices K.N. Basha (right), author Arunachalam (centre) and Justice T. Sudanthiram are seen.— Photo: R. Ashok
IN A LIGHTER VEIN:Justice V. Ramasubramanian of the Madras High Court (second from right) releases a book on senior advocate N.T. Vanamamalai and hands over the first copy to Justice S. Nagamuthu. in Madurai on Thursday. Justices K.N. Basha (right), author Arunachalam (centre) and Justice T. Sudanthiram are seen.— Photo: R. Ashok

It was an evening not only to laugh out loud but also to reflect and rectify as Justice V. Ramasubramanian of the Madras High Court spoke on the topic ‘Curious Cases and Quixotic Decisions’ at the Women Advocates Association in the High Court Bench here on Thursday.

Addressing the audience at a jam packed hall, the judge spoke about four different cases with the first being the one that took place in Maltese Island in the 1700s. One early morning, Cambro, the only judge in the island, peeped through the window and saw a man running away after stabbing another.

A baker passing by went to the rescue of the victim and removed the knife from his body. However, on hearing the police siren, he panicked and hid behind a bush with the knife. To his bad luck, the police caught him, recovered the weapon and prosecuted him for the offence of murder.

The judge too convicted the baker as the evidence was entirely against him. It was only after his retirement that Mr. Cambro disclosed the truth of having been witness to the crime and became a subject of large scale condemnation by his countrymen for having punished an innocent.

Nevertheless, eminent jurists of that time supported Mr. Cambro’s judgement on the premise that a judge was not expected to look beyond case bundles and impose his personal knowledge while deciding a case, Mr. Justice Ramasubramanian said and left it to the audience to decide whether Cambro was right or wrong.

The second case was related to the enactment of the Butler Act 1925 in the State of Tennessee. The Act declared teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools and colleges as a crime on the ground that it was opposed to the theory of evolution propounded by the Bible.

Then, a businessman named George issued a newspaper advertisement offering a reward for anyone who would violate the law voluntarily. John T. Scopes, a biology teacher, accepted the offer, committed the offence of teaching Darwin’s theory and got prosecuted.

Clarence Darrow, a famous lawyer, came forward to defend the accused free of cost during the trial. And he succeeded in convincing the jury by proving through cross examination that the complainant Bryan had no knowledge of Christianity or the Bible in detail and therefore the case had no legs to stand.

However, when the jury was about to acquit the biology teacher, the lawyer turned a volte face and requested them to convict his own client so that he could take the matter on appeal and get more publicity. The jury too accepted the request and imposed a fine of $100.

The third case was about Ramendra Narayan Roy, the second son of a wealthy Zamindar in East Bengal. On May 9, 1909, there was a heavy storm and rainfall in Darjeeling where his body was cremated and therefore those who went to the cremation ground could not wait to collect the ashes.

Eleven years later, his sister found a saint, who resembled Mr. Roy, on the banks of Buri Ganga at Dhaka and believed that he was indeed her brother. But Mr. Roy’s wife refused to accept him as her dead husband. Curiously, the saint filed a suit before a Sub-Court to declare him as the second of the Zamindar.

The suit was ordered in favour of the saint after accepting his explanation that on the day of the cremation, he was washed into the river and landed in the hands of some Himalayan saints who found that he was only in a coma stage. They revived him and made him live with them for 11 years.

Mr. Roy’s wife took the matter on appeal before the Calcutta High Court which also ruled in favour of the saint on July 30, 1946. The High Court judgement was delivered to the saint on July 31, 1946 and he died on the same day without getting a chance of inheriting property worth Rs. 8 lakh.

The fourth case was about two girl friends who were returning home in different cars after attending a party. The girl in the first car met with an accident and the girl in the second rescued her. But unfortunately, the victim became a paraplegic and filed a suit for damages against her friend for wrong handling during the rescue operation.

The trial court dismissed the suit. But the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and ordered the victim’s friend to pay compensation. “May be this is why, not many in our country help others in need,” Mr. Justice Ramasubramanian said and pointed out that there are countries which give awards for stupid court decisions.

“Luckily, such awards have not been instituted in India so far,” the judge said amidst roaring laughter. Earlier, he released a book on professional ethics followed by senior counsel N.T. Vanamamalai (since dead) and handed over the first copy to Justice S. Nagamuthi in the presence of Justice K.N. Basha and Justice T. Sudanthiram.

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