Hearing a plea against a murder conviction and life sentence, the Supreme Court on Tuesday (1st February 2022) explained court craft and the art of argumenting to a young lawyer appearing for the petitioners, providing guidance on which portions of the court record to rely on and submissions to formulate, and finally, passing an order of acquittal.
The Court even arranged for a Senior Advocate to instruct the petitioners’ lawyer on how to argue a criminal appeal.
The bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath was hearing two SLPs filed in 2020 against a January 2019 decision of the Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court on a criminal appeal. During the hearing, the lawyer for the petitioners appeared to be fumbling with the submissions at the opening, Justice Surya Kant instructed him- “Always remember the facts like a fiction-writer. It should be like you are telling a story to us, the narrative should be also like that”
When the lawyer attempted to take the bench through High Court judgement, Justice Chandrachud noted,
“When you are in a criminal appeal against conviction, you must state your case without the High Court judgment. When you read a judgment, there may be a tendency to say that ‘okay, these are the reasons for which the High Court said what it did’. But that is what you have to overcome in the final hearing!…You don’t want the judges to get in an affirmation state of mind. You want a completely unbiased and uninfluenced view of your matter…this is a matter of court craft, which you must remember even while arguing a first appeal before the High Court.”
When the lawyer requested a pass-over, Justice Chandrachud responded,
“Now you have the valuable judicial time of the Supreme Court, don’t ask for passovers. We will go through this together.”
The bench advised him on how to advance arguments based on the case record, pointing out contradictions in the prosecution witnesses’ depositions, how they appeared to disintegrate in cross-examination, and how the evidence of certain key witnesses had come to be overlooked.
The bench then heard from the respondent state-lawyer. Following the completion of both parties’ arguments, the Bench proceeded to dictate its order acquitting the petitioners.
In addition, Justice Chandrachud asked Senior Advocate Manoj Swarup, who was standing before the bench in another issue, to meet with the lawyer in the evening of the same day to discuss ‘how to argue a criminal appeal’.