Saturday 12 July 2014

Chief Justice Mootham

Sir Orby Mootham was an Englishman, who was a Judge in the Allahabad High Court for several years, until he became the Chief Justice of the High Court in 1955.He retired at the age of 60 years (which was then the retirement age ) in 1961. He was a totally upright Judge, compassionate and considerate, and won the hearts of the Allahabad High Court bar.

A story which was told of him was that once when he was sitting in Court an old litigant was wearing his cap in the Courtroom. Sir Orby thought this impertinence, and he told the bench clerk to ask the litigant to take off his cap. The litigant took it off, but then put it on again. Sir Orby then told the bench clerk to take the litigant out of the Courtroom, which was done.

During the lunch interval a brother Judge ( an Indian) came to meet Sir Orby in his chamber, where Sir Orby related the incident to him. The brother Judge laughed, and told Sir Orby that the litigant was not wearing the cap to show disrespect to the Court. He explained that in England wearing a cap in the presence of distinguished people was a sign of disrespect, but in India it was a sign of respect. So the litigant was showing his respect to the Court by wearing the cap, not disrespect.

On hearing this Sir Orby felt very regretful, and said that since he had, though unintentionally, insulted the litigant in Court, he must apologize in open Court. He then sent his bench clerk to fetch the litigant and ask him to appear in Court after the lunch interval. When the Court reassembled after lunch, Sir Orby apologized to the litigant, and told him that he did not know the customs of India very well, and so he had unintentionally insulted him, for which he was sincerely sorry.

This was his greatness. No litigant left his Court without the feeling that his case had been fully heard, and all that could have been done by human justice had been done in the case.

After retirement in 1961 he went back to England and settled down there

In 1994, when Sir Orby was 93 years old I had a chance of going to England. I had heard that he was still alive since he still corresponded with some senior lawyers. I was therefore naturally keen to meet him. I telephoned him and sought an appointment. At first he invited me to his club, the Atheneum. In England it is regarded a great honour to be invited to a club. but then he remembered it was a Sunday, and the club was closed, and so he invited me to his home.

I went there by the tube (the metro), which is very efficient in London, and I got there in about 40 minutes.

He was at the door to receive me. and he himself opened the door. He was fully erect, though 93 years old. His wife had died a few years earlier, and he was living with his widowed daughter. He took me inside to his sitting room facing his garden, in which there were apple and apricot trees. In England one's garden is usually at the rear of the house, unlike in India where it is usually in front.
Sir Orby was then watching a county cricket match on T.V.. He asked me whether I would like some fine German beer, and I said I would be glad to.

I told him that I was the son of Justice S.N. Katju, whom he remembered. I also said that I had become a Judge of the Allahabad High Court in 1991, and I regarded visiting him as a pilgrimage, since he had been the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court when I was only a student.

We spoke about the High Court, and he made several enquiries about the Court, which showed his interest in the Allahabad High Court though he had retired 33 years earlier.

At the end of my visit I requested him to write a message for the High Court bench and bar, which he gladly did. I still remember the exact words of the message :

" I am very glad to have this unexpected opportunity to send my very best wishes to the Hon'ble Judges and all members of the bar of the Allahabad High Court. I remember with great happiness the time I spent in the Court and the invariable help and courtesy which I received from all. I hope and trust that the Court will continue to maintain those high traditions which have so distinguished it in the past "

When I returned to Allahabad I showed the message to several Judges and senior members of the bar of the High Court. One senior member, Mr. Ajit Man Singh, ( who died several years ago) remarked : "There is not a single superfluous word in the message. You cannot add or delete a word"

Two years later we heard that Sir Orby had died.

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