I had no doubt about the soundness of my advice, but I doubted very much my fitness for doing full justice to the case. I felt it would be a most hazardous undertaking to argue such a difficult case before the Supreme Court, and I appeared before the Bench in fear and trembling.
As soon as I referred to the error in the accounts, one of the judges said:
'Is not this sharp practice, Mr. Gandhi?'
I boiled within to hear this charge. It was intolerable to be accused of sharp practice when there was not the slightest warrant for it.
'With a judge prejudiced from the start like this, there is little chance of success in this difficult case,' I said to myself. But I composed my thoughts and answered:
'I am surprised that your Lordship should suspect sharp practice without hearing me out.'
'No question of a charge,' said the judge. 'It is a mere suggestion.'
'The suggestion here seems to me to amount to a charge. I would ask your Lordship to hear me out and then arraign me if there is any occasion for it.'
'I am sorry to have interrupted you,' replied the judge. 'Pray do go on with your explanation of the discrepancy.'
I had enough material in support of my explanation. Thanks to the judge having raised this question, I was able to rivet the Court's attention on my argument from the very start. I felt much encouraged and took the opportunity of entering into a detailed explanation. The Court gave me a patient hearing, and I was able to convince the judges that the discrepancy was due entirely to inadvertence. They therefore did not feel disposed to cancel the whole award, which had involved considerable labour.
The opposing counsel seemed to feel secure in the belief that not much argument would be needed after the error had been admitted. But the judges continued to interrupt him, as they were convinced that the error was a slip which could be easily rectified. The counsel laboured hard to attack the award, but the judge who had originally started with the suspicion had now come round definitely to my side.
'Supposing Mr. Gandhi had not admitted the error, what would you have done?' he asked.
'It was impossible for us to secure the services of a more competent and honest expert accountant than the one appointed by us.'
'The Court must presume that you know your case best. If you cannot point out anything beyond the slip which any expert accountant is liable to commit, the Court will be loath to compel the parties to go in for fresh litigation and fresh expenses because of a patent mistake. We may not order a fresh hearing when such an error can be easily corrected continued the judge.
And so the counsel's objection was overruled. The Court either confirmed the award, with the error rectified, or ordered the arbitrator to rectify the error, I forget which.
I was delighted. So were my client and senior counsel; and I was confirmed in my conviction that it was not impossible to practise law without compromising truth.
Let the reader, however, remember that even truthfulness in the practice of the profession cannot cure it of the fundamental defect that vitiates it.
Next : 98.( 123-194 ) CLIENTS TURNED CO-WORKERS
To be continued ...