Solemn and Insightful Humour gets Going!

[Commenting on the order by Justice G.S. Patel of Bombay High Court in the matter of GO Holdings Pvt. Ltd & Ors. v. Interglobe Aviation Limited (Indigo) & Anr., Notice of Motion No. 257 of 2014 and Suit No. 98 of 2014]

Courtrooms, as observed by former Madras High Court Justice A.S.P. Ayyar I.C.S., are places where ‘the whole panorama of life is unrolled…often in its utter nakedness and the kaleidoscopic experiences of different and indifferent people.” Imagining humour in such places, therefore is not an easily conceivable task. GO Holdings Limited’s (owning and operating airline business in the name of GoAir) obsession with its impression of its intellectual property went overboard when it approached the Bombay High Court (Original Civil Side) seeking an injunction of InterGlobe Aviation’s use of the prefix “go” in their website, the address for which is www.GoIndigo.in. They claim that the use of these two letters “go” is a right accruing exclusively to them from their intellectual property. Amusingly enough, Google Inc. has also been impleaded as a party for using “go” in their web address www.google.com. While I had a hard time believing the proposition at first, the fact is that it is nothing less than the truth!

The hilarious and quintessentially funny two-page order fixing a date for the determination of issues for October, 2016 and hearing the notice of motion in January, 2017, delivered by Justice G.S. Patel, offers a peculiar opportunity to introspect into the the use or oft abuse of the processes of law. More so, with how judges encounter and act or react to such instances.

What seemed to be a frivolous petition was meted out an equally frivolous end. Strange are the ways of litigation. Reasons as to one taking recourse to a court of law are better comprehended as a part of the larger tact and strategy than as matters exclusively concerning the domain of the law. In this sense, legal processes are most of the times, if not all, are in one way, extra-legal and outside the vires of the law. In this context, to understand legal processes in general, and litigation in particular, one must place them within a larger picture, to which there are no four corners of the ‘law’. How one comprehends and makes sense of this extra-legal nature of legal processes is conditioned by one’s own mental faculties. As law people, we do tend to confer legality in most forms of reasoning that we come across.

It is in this context that I would wish to place Justice G.S. Patel’s witty and humorous dig at the counsels contending their IP rights in the matter between GO Holdings Private Limited and Interglobe Aviation Limited (IndiGo Airlines). A judge, who also happens to be a former comrade of the same Bar, on sensing this extra-legality of the matter, took to his own extra-legal ways of dealing with it. He could have gone ahead with the matter in the mundane legal manner, but instead, took the matter and resorted to his quick wit. Humour in courtrooms is a recurring theme in discussions about lawyering. As former Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court, G.D. Khosla had once commented that lawyers and judges learn during their careers, the ability to take jokes and humour without being offended. He also commented as to how humour’s inroads into litigation often manifesting human predicaments, eases the whole process and increases the efficiency of courtroom practice.

In my opinion, the counsel for the petitioner seeking the intellectual property relief, seemed to have been guided by what Lord Brougham observed about the community known as lawyers constituted by “learned gentlemen who rescue your estate from your enemies, and keep it to themselves.” How on earth can such a petition be allowed is as of now, beyond my comprehension and understanding. It seems that rationality has taken a backseat in the working out of legal processes, which are often celebrated as based on the doctrine of reasonableness.

Perhaps, one of the greatest English satirist, Dean (Jonathan) Swift in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726) could not have contemplated how his conception of lawyers would fit into a 2016 case, when he said that lawyers are a “society of men bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for that purpose, that white is black and black is white.” The case seems to have been rebuked and retorted by the judge for this very apparent reason. Therefore, bringing the point back, there does seem to be an extra-legal reason or motive for initialing this litigation. This, in my belief, is and could only be best known to the petitioners (or their counsels or legal advisors). For instance, at times, litigation is resorted to further commercial interests such as plummeting or making the share-prices of the market competitor plunge.

A famous 17th century English proverb also has something interesting to offer in this regard, according to which “lawyers’ houses are built on the heads of fools.” The hegemonic presumption here is that it is the client who is a fool, and not the lawyer. This conception fails to imagine instances here lawyers out of all their shrewdness, offer bad advice to their clients as to approaching a court of law. Is GO Holdings proceeding with the matter in full consciousness? I don’t have an answer. But, something does seem to be wrong with either the client or their lawyers here. Therefore, both could be fools at times. Illustratively, where the innocent client’s houses might be destroyed as an outcome of foolish and unwise lawyering!

Judges are not isolated characters. A famous instance was recollected by Dr. A.N. Jha of Allahabad University in his lecture ‘Humour in Law.’ Therein, a lawyer who was indulging in sleepy and boring argumentation was caught at red by the judges. On the occasion of adjournment, when he interrogated the honourable justices as to when would it be their pleasure to hear the remainder of his arguments; one of them remarked, that they were bound to hear him, and they were to do so on the coming Friday, but “pleasure” has long been out of the proceedings. Now the question is, what do judges contemplate when they resort to such wit manifested in their bon mot remarks.. It is definitely not “bad in law“. However, implications of such humorous legal proceeding can sometimes be not very pleasant with the pleaders. What judges might seem to have effected in this manner is to have adjudicated over the matter (in the negative) at a prima facie level itself. Notwithstanding the juridical implications of such flimsy verbosity, we must not underestimate the ability of our legal brethren to make clear demarcations between business and humour. Nonetheless, the order of Justice G.S. Patel, emphasising certain verbiage over another, surely offers a great amount of insight into the hysterical profession of courtroom advocacy.

John Wabster’s quote would be an apt closure of my attempted intellectual insight into a seemingly trivial matter:

O happy they were who never saw a court,
Nor ever knew cases but by report.

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