Senior Advocate K. K. Manan has many firsts to his name in his three-decade-long career. Maintaining professional ethics in a profession like the law has always been like walking on a double-edged sword. But Mr. Manan has maintained balance on this count throughout his career and has always delivered to the best of his clients’ satisfaction. In an interview with Khurram Nizami, he shares his views on different aspects of the profession and his experiences with it.
First and foremost, everyone wants to know why you chose law as a profession.
By the 10th grade, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a legal career and become a lawyer. The reason is that we used to read essays about Nehru Ji, Mahatma Gandhi Ji, and Sardar Patel Ji in school. They encouraged me to pursue a career as a lawyer.
So, why did you decide to specialise in criminal law?
During my law school days, I got an opportunity to visit Delhi 3-4 times. During my visit, I was able to witness Sanjay Gandhi’s lawyers argue the case in court, which piqued my interest. It made me realise that if I pursue my career in criminal law there’s a lot of fame and money. Well, money is a secondary thing but yes, it really persuaded me to take criminal law as my specialisation.
Who were your mentors?
I was fortunate to have a senior who was at the pinnacle of his career at the time, Advocate Baldev Saheb Mehta ji, a well-known lawyer in Patiala House Court. This was a watershed moment in my life. I was fortunate to have such a wonderful senior.
Do you think seniors are as protective, educational, and supportive of their juniors in today’s world as they were when you were growing up? What do you think?
You should ask my juniors about this question. Over 600 juniors have trained under me. Many of them are now judges, and 1-2 juniors are on their way to becoming judges. I’ve never treated my juniors like they were juniors; I’m their senior, and they should respect me. I usually hand them the cases and tell them to deal with them on their own. I’ve always treated them fairly and with dignity.
There was a time when you were offered the chance to become a Law Minister or High Court Judge. What was that offer and what did you prefer?
I did not receive an offer to be a judge, but I did want to be one. You may recall an incident in which a Bhartiya Janata Party Member of Parliament wrote two derogatory and defamatory books about then Prime Minister Deve Gowda ji. At the time, Mr. Deve Gowda ji appointed me as the special prosecutor in his case. It was the first time a sitting prime minister had filed a defamation case, and I was special prosecutor in the case.
Yes, absolutely. I requested Deve Gowda ji that if he want to make me something then I’d want to become a judge. But by the time my name matured and the discussion took place, before he could recommend my name, the government changed. Even after that, in the year 2000, I won’t take the name of the person, he was from the Bharatiya Janta Party and unfortunately, he is no more, offered me if I want to be a judge, which I refused. Even though I had previously been in politics, I had always wanted to be a judge. I’ve served as president of my college and as general secretary of my university. I have also served as secretary of the Patiala House Bar Council three times, president four times, and chairman three times. So I’m no longer interested in politics.
And why is this so?
After all, there is a time for everything. I calculated how far I would need to go to become a High Court Judge. It is difficult to become a judge, and even more difficult to stay a judge. A lot of effort is required to be a judge. Daily reading, writing, and learning are required, as well as a significant amount of effort. A judge’s main duty is to be unbiased towards society, and as a result, a personal bond cannot be maintained. A good judge should keep a safe distance even when speaking with one’s own relatives.
Have you ever had a case where you felt it was wrong to take it on moral grounds? Have you ever considered whether or not this person should be saved? What are your views on this?
This has happened numerous times. I’ve dropped major cases like 2G. I was unable to take up 2G because the hearing was on a daily basis and I would not have been able to devote that much time to it, which would have been unfair to my clients. But, yes, there have been many instances where my mind and conscious did not agree. Everyone, including criminal lawyers, is aware of the facts of the case. However, everything is dependent on the circumstances, situation, and mental stability of the person who committed the crime. I’m past the point where I’ll take up a matter regardless of my conscience for the sake of money.
Have you ever had a client tell you, “I’m writing you a blank cheque”?
Oh yes. Several times. But if I don’t feel like dealing with it, I won’t. They do offer a large sum of money that one cannot even possibly imagine. I take my cases seriously. I used to be a little hot-handed, but not anymore. A person evolves over time and with age. After a certain amount of experience, the person’s thinking changes. “Paise hi sab kuch nahi hota aur paise ke bina bhi kuch nahi hota,” as the saying goes.
How much time do you have to prepare for a hearing before the bench?
You should be well-versed in the file and the case if you are filing a matter in High Court. Even in lower courts, for cross examination, one should be thoroughly familiar with the file and aware of even the most minor details of the case. Otherwise, cross-examination will be ineffective.
Is this a lesson for future lawyers?
It is, indeed. And today’s children are extremely bright. They are excellent drafters and speak English very well. In comparison to today’s children, our English is not as fluent. So, the lesson for all of these young lawyers is to work hard. There is no shortage of money in this profession, but you should never cheat to get it. It takes at least 5 years to pursue a career in criminal law.