REMINISCENCES OF THE BAR
Before coming to a narrative of the course my life
took in India, it seems necessary to recall a few of the
South African experiences which I have deliberately left
Some lawyer friends have asked me to give my
reminiscences of the bar. The number of these is so large
that, if I were to describe them all, they would occupy a
volume by themselves and take me out of my scope. But it
may not perhaps be improper to recall some of those which
bear upon the practice of truth.
So far as I can recollect, I have already said that I
never resorted to untruth in my profession, and that a
large part of my legal practice was in the interest of
public work, for which I charged nothing beyond
out-of-pocket expenses, and these too I sometimes met
myself. I had thought that in saying this I had said all
that was necessary as regards my legal practice. But
friends want me to do more. They seem to think that, if I
described however slightly, some of the occasions when I
refused to swerve from the truth, the legal profession
might profit by it.
As a student I had heard that the lawyer's profession
was a liar's profession. But this did not influence me,
as I had no intention of earning either position or money
My principle was put to the test many a time in South
Africa. Often I knew that my opponents had tutored their
witnesses, and if I only encouraged my client or his
witnesses to lie, we could win the case. But I always
resisted the temptation. I remember only one occasion
when, after having won a case, I suspected that my client
had deceived me. In my heart of hearts I always wished
that I should win only if my client's case was right. In
fixing my fees I do not recall ever having made them
conditional on my winning the case. Whether my client won
or lost, I expected nothing more nor less than my fees.
I warned every new client at the outset that he should
not expect me to take up a false case or to coach the
witnesses, with the result that I built up such a
reputation that no false cases used to come to me. Indeed
some of my clients would keep their clean cases for me,
and take the doubtful ones elsewhere.
There was one case which proved a severe trial. It was
brought to me by one of my best clients. It was a case of
highly complicated accounts and had been a prolonged one.
It had been heard in parts before several courts.
Ultimately the book-keeping portion of it was entrusted
by the court to the arbitration of some qualified
accountants. The award was entirely in favour of my
client, but the arbitrators had inadvertently committed
an error in calculation which, however small, was
serious, inasmuch as an entry which ought to have been on
the debit side was made on the credit side. The opponents
had opposed the award on other grounds. I was junior
counsel for my client. When the senior counsel became
aware of the error, he was of opinion that our client was
not bound to admit it. He was clearly of opinion that no
counsel was bound to admit anything that went against his
client's interest. I said we ought to admit the error.
But the senior counsel contended: 'In that case there
is every likelihood of the court cancelling the whole
award, and no sane counsel would imperil his client's
case to that extent. At any rate I would be the last man
to take any such risk. If the case were to be sent up for
a fresh hearing, one could never tell what expenses our
client might have to incur, and what the ultimate result
The client was present when this conversation took
I said : 'I feel that both our client and we ought to
run the risk. Where is the certainty of the court
upholding a wrong award simply because we do not admit
the error? And supposing the admission were to bring the
client to grief, what harm is there?'
'But why should we make the admission at all?' said
the senior counsel.
'Where is the surety of the court not detecting the
error or our opponent not discovering it?' said I.
'Well then, will you argue the case? I am not prepared
to argue it on your terms,' replied the senior counsel
I humbly answered: 'If you will not argue, then I am
prepared to do so, if our client so desires. I shall have
nothing to do with the case if the error is not
With this I looked at my client. He was a little
embarrassed. I had been in the case from the very first.
The client fully trusted me, and knew me through and
through. He said: 'Well, then, you will argue the case
and admit the error. Let us lose, if that is to be our
lot. God defend the right.'
I was delighted. I had expected nothing less from him.
The senior counsel again warned me, pitied me for my
obduracy, but congratulated me all the same. What
happened in the court we shall see in the next chapter.