Lextalk World Interviews Swarnendu Chatterjee. Swarnendu Chatterjee is the Founder of Law Chambers of Swarnendu Chatterjee. He is an Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India since March 2020. He has previously worked with Saraf and Partners, L&L Partners and MAP Corporate Legal as Principal Associate in the Dispute Resolution Teams of the aforesaid firms. He has extensive experience spanning over almost a decade, including being chamber junior to Late Shri P.P. Rao from 2013-2017 and erstwhile ASG Hon’ble Justice P S Narasimha (Judge, Supreme Court of India)from October 2017-April 2018.
Swarnendu specializes in Civil Law, Constitutional Law, Insolvency Laws, Taxation Laws, Labour Law, Criminal Law and Arbitration and is a qualified Advocate-On-Record designated by Supreme Court of India in March 2020.
He has worked in many fields of law and his experience of close to a decade extends to virtually all aspects of litigation and arbitration. Swarnendu has extensive experience in both domestic and international jurisdictions. Swarnendu has extensively advised on debt recovery, insolvency, banking and financial issues, service matters, matters of constitutional importance and commercial and corporate disputes and real estate in various Courts all over India.
Host: Tell us about a complex legal issue you worked on. Describe the complexity and tell us how you approached it?
Swarnendu:Law is a dynamic subject and is ever evolving. In our social strata, lawyers and doctors are always contacted whenever there is a deep-rooted problem. There is no case is which cannot be termed as “not complex,” it depends on the lawyers as to how they would handle the situation and the case. The degree of complexity increases with the nature of the issues involved and the forum in question; meaning thereby, when we are before the Hon’ble High Courts/Supreme Court, then the degree of complexity and the legal issues involved reach the highest pedestal.
I appear before different forums across the Country including the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. If we speaking about appearance before District Courts, I have appeared before District Courts of New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh (Nodia), Gurugram, Mumbai (Esplanade Court) and Bhopal. Then, I have appeared before different High Courts apart from Delhi High Court (Calcutta, Allahabad, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, P&H, Orissa), National Company Law Tribunals (Mumbai, Delhi, Allahabad, Hyderabad, Chandigarh) and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (Delhi). The degree of complexity and the approach of the Courts/Benches differ from place to place and forum to forum.
lead member of the Committee of Creditors, State Bank of India who had briefed one of the best senior advocates in Delhi, Mr. Ramji Srinivasan. It was a very tough task to face a senior of that stature. However, my clients had reposed faith in my abilities and I had faith in God and the training of my late senior, Shri PP Rao (Sr. Adv). I still remember the enormous reading I had to undertake to take the case to its logical conclusion. The victory was obviously very sweet and August 19, 2019 (date of the verdict) shall always be etched in my memory. The second matter, which I had dealt with was the insolvency resolution process case of the Jet Airways. The matter is sub-judice before the Hon’ble NCLAT and the judgment has been reserved by Hon’ble NCLAT. We are awaiting the outcome of the verdict. The matter was hard fought before NCLAT and it had required endless preparations. I was up against the stalwarts in the profession, Mr. Krishnendu Datta (Sr. Adv), Mr. Rohan Rajadhyakshya (Adv) and Mr. Krishnan Venugopal (Sr. Adv). The preparation required a lot of reading of numerous precedents of different forums, long conference hours, etc. However, the learning which I had in this process was beyond comparison. Irrespective of the outcome, I shall cherish this journey forever. The third matter, which I had dealt recently was the matter of one Mr. Kamaluddin (Senior Partner, Paragon Enterprises). The journey started with me being engaged to get the FIR registered against Mr. Kamaluddin in Ambala quashed. We had moved a petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The outcome was not such favourable and being aggrieved we moved the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The interesting part was, the Haryana Police was at the doorstep of Mr. Kamaluddin to arrest him and he was detained at the Chitpur GRPS Police Station due to a look-out circular being issued against him. The remand application filed by Haryana Police was listed on the same day as that of the Special Leave Petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The matter before the Hon’ble Supreme Court was heard at length from 4.10pm on 20th July 2022. Being satisfied with the arguments, the Hon’ble Court was pleased to issue notice in the matter and granted the interim relief of protection from arrest and thereafter has issued notice in the matter of issuance of Look-Out Circular. The matter is sub-judice before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The aforesaid instance was the second one in my career, where I had managed to save a person from incarceration. The first one being Mr. Jaideep Singh (MD, GMV Pvt Limited, Bhopal) wherein, with the team work and support I had from my partner, Mr. Wasim Beg (Partner – Luthra and Luthra, Law Offices, New Delhi) during my tenure there, was commendable, where we had filed a petition before Hon’ble Delhi High Court and had successfully argued to get a relief so that the Hon’ble Sessions Court had in a way had to grant relief to my client. This was again a memorable case.
In my career, whether single-handedly or as a junior to Late Shri PP Rao and being a Principal Associate to two reputed firms in India (Luthra and Luthra) and (Saraf and Partners) there were many such occasions and cases, where with our strategy and background work, we were successful in getting relief for our clients.
When you get relief for your client and they thank for your work, it is the biggest treasure in a professional’s life.
Host: The pandemic saw some courts begin moving towards more remote proceedings and availability. Is this sustainable, and a possible way to increase access to justice, in your opinion?
Swarnendu: The pandemic has taught us many things professionally and personally. It was very hard initially as our systems were never equipped with the virtual set up. We always had a belief and stronghold on the physical set up atleast in Courts and in the legal fraternity. The softwares which were there (zoom, Webex etc) came to our rescue. The hearings when it had started initially on the online platforms, were very cumbersome, as we being the stakeholders were not so tech savvy. The notifications of the Courts that regarding urgent hearings made things go crazy for the first few months, as we know it for a fact that for every litigant, their matters are urgent and with the interim orders being extended owing to covid (pandemic) as well as the limitation period being extended, the lawyers from every strata felt the toughness of the pandemic and the economic slowdown.
Even top tier law firms felt that hardness of the situation (economic slowdown owing to the pandemic).
Slowly towards the end of 2020, the softwares were fully functional and in place. The Courts were also equipped with the efiling procedures. However, this was only for the courts in urban or semi-urban areas. The Courts in rural or semi-rural areas suffered a lot due to lack of infrastructure and this is precisely when the High Courts (on their administrative side) and the Supreme Court took cognizance of the same and passed orders for improvement of the infrastructure.
That is when we saw the Governments stepping up to the task and the Courts were given full digital access and situation somehow improved. The mantra was, “Access to Justice cannot be stopped”.We overcame the situation and now most of the Courts including the Trial Courts are equipped to conduct hearings and even trials online without any adjournments in some cases. However, still I feel, according to me the hybrid system is fine, so as to reduce the chances of undue adjournments, as the counsels can appear even during their travel across the globe for any work or otherwise.
There is always a scope for improvement and the Courts must ensure that the Virtual Platform must be used to cut down on unnecessary adjournments, especially during trials, so that the witnesses can be examined and trials can be conducted seamlessly without any delay. The goal of the Judiciary and the Government is to cut down / reduction of the pendency of the case. Therefore, unless we as lawyers and being the officers of the Court guide our clients to the right path (avoiding adjournments unless it is absolutely unavoidable) then only the call and the wish of Hon’ble Dr. Justice DY Chandrachud (Judge, Supreme Court of India) of the Courts in India, not being “tareek pe tareek courts” can be fulfilled.
Technology is a boon for the Indian Judicial System which can be used to reduce the unnecessary adjournments and conduct the proceedings without any delay.
The High Courts being in a supervisory jurisdiction over the Trial Courts, must in their administrative capacities ensure that the e-courts systems are in place, the soft copies of the daily orders and judgments are uploaded and access to justice along with speedy justice, which is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution is available to all the citizens in the Country.
Host: How would you rate the current legal system's drive towards encouraging access to justice? Is there tangible movement in closing the justice gap?
Swarnendu: Continuing from my aforesaid answer, Indian Judiciary has certainly gained a lot of momentum in its drive towards in making justice accessible to all. However, a lot of work is yet to be done. As our Hon’ble CJI has mentioned, Legal Aid must not only be “naam ke vaaste”, we lawyers need to step up to provide some pro bono service to the needy clients who can really be our bhagyavidhaata.
My Late Senior used to say, “paying clients are our anyadaata and non-paying clients are our bhagyavidhaata.” I follow the same principle. The amount of labour I put in for the cases are exactly the same for each and every matter. It does not depend on the quantum of fees I get. Quoting Martin Luther King, “ Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” is apt in this situation. We as officers of the Court owe a lot of duty to this nation and being stakeholders of this fraternity we must ensure that justice is served and that too within a time bound manner.
The quality of legal education has improved considerably, yet the students should be inspired to take up the cause of the people and strive towards litigation more as they can serve the society in a better manner. In my opinion, after having worked as a Principal Associate in two leading firms in this country, I dare to say that, Corporate Jobs can feed your pocket and keep you happy economically, but litigation and service to the fraternity can help you get complete job satisfaction, professional satisfaction. I represent a lot of Workers’ Union, they may not be rewarding you financially, when you compare it to a corporate client, however