Ayodhya case

Right of withdrawal

Print edition : January 05, 2018

The Babri Masjid, hours before its demolition by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Ayodhya, December 9, 1992: The makeshift temple where the Babri Masjid once stood. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Mohammad Shami, whose brother, Fateh Mohammad, was killed by a marauding mob of kar sevaks the day after the demolition in Ayodhya. Here seen with his wife, Amina, on December 8 outside the concrete house in which they took refuge and saved their lives. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Kapil Sibal, counsel for the appellants in the Ayodhya case. Photo: KAMAL KISHORE/PTI

Wasim Rizvi, head of the Shia Central Waqf Board and one of the petitioners in the case, speaking to the media after the hearing on December 5. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Mahant Dharam Das of the Ayodhya-based Nirvani Ani Akhara, who is one of the petitioners, after the hearing. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

The classic case concerning the blackmail of Hari Singh, later Maharaja of Kashmir, in London in 1920 is illustrative of the right of withdrawal. After his release from prison the accused sued some papers for libel. Two cases were tried before the Lord Chief Justice Hewart. Serjeant Sullivan was indebted to him for help in settling down as he moved to practise from Dublin to London. He regarded his client a “loathsome and repulsive individual”. But Hewart gradually “became an intolerant little tyrant”.

Sullivan did not decline the brief for reasons which bear quoting at length in the foul atmosphere in our country. “I could not refuse the brief although many English counsel would have thought it within their provenance to do so, for I had ever maintained as a leader of my native Bar and continued to maintain that counsel are given exclusive audience in the High Court of Justice only on condition that they will place their services at the disposal of any one of the King’s subjects that desires their help. Any other rule would leave an unpopular man defenceless in the courts. No one hated Hobbs [the Plaintiff] more than I did. That could not be, in my opinion, any excuse for depriving him of legal assistance in the circumstances of the case.”

In the first trial the jury hastily returned a verdict for the defendants. Sullivan applied for a different jury in the second case. Hewart was furious. Sullivan asked for adjournment of the case, which was refused. Also refused was leave to appeal. “I withdrew from the case and left the court, went into the Court of Appeal and got all I asked for.” He had read with great effect an affidavit recording the exchanges with Hewart to submit that “by reason of the conduct of the Lord Chief Justice… a fair trial of his [client’s] action could not be had before the Lord Chief Justice”. They do not make men and advocates like Serjeant Sullivan any more (Serjeant A.M. Sullivan Q.C., The Last Serjeant, page 307).

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