Ms. Akriti Chaubey is an independent litigating professional, specialising in Supreme Court Litigation and Arbitration. She is a qualified Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court of India and has over 9 years of experience in Litigation as well as Investment Treaty Arbitration. She has been a part of several landmark cases before the Supreme Court of India, such as the Ayodhya dispute, the Entry Tax matter, the Triple Talaq matter, the Coal gate matter. Apart from the foregoing, she has represented several reputed hospitals and doctors in cases relating to medical negligence both before the Consumer Forum as well as the Supreme Court of India. She has also worked on several investment treaty arbitrations, including Vodafone’s claim against India. She has also argued several matters in relation to Wakf Properties.
She has advised clients on litigation strategies in relation to mining and environmental matters. She has represented multinational companies in high stake matters concerning shareholder’s disputes and other contractual matters.
In the past 9 years she has successfully handled a diverse range of matters pertaining to Constitutional Law, Human Rights Law, Consumer Law, Civil Law, Wakf Law, Arbitration and Commercial Law. She is skilled in dealing with varied clients with exceptional interpersonal skills which has helped her to build strong relationships.
Apart from managing her litigation practice, she volunteers for a non-profit organization- Adhiyagya which focusses on providing education to underprivileged children. She also loves to write and has authored several articles on both legal and other subjects.
Host: You have worked on some very diverse areas of law, ranging from Investment Treaty Arbitrations to the Ayodhya matter, please tell us a little bit about your journey, how did you end up juggling with such a wide range of matters?
Akriti : Right out of law school I got placed with DMD Advocates, where I had interned twice.
At that time they had just commenced the process of initiating the Investment Treaty Arbitration (ITA) claim on behalf of Vodafone, I was fortunate enough to be included in the team of Ms. Anuradha Dutt- who is an absolute task master and was leading the ITA team. Thus, started one of the most exciting phases of my career- working for the ITA meant- working alongside lawyers from London (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom), briefing Mr. Salve regularly and constantly doing a lot of reading as ITA law at that time was in its nascent stage.
After 3 great years at DMD, I was bitten by the litigation bug and I wanted to get hands on litigation experience, I am a first generation lawyer and I did not know anyone who did hardcore litigation, except Mr. Ejaz Maqbool, with whom I had interned when I was in law school. Fortunately, at the same time that I was quitting DMD, he had a vacancy and so I came to join his chambers.
In his chambers, I got exposure to some of the biggest matters in India, such as the Triple Talaq matter, the Entry Tax matter, the Ayodhya dispute . I also got to handle several domestic arbitrations and company matters. Apart from getting a free- hand to manage and brief seniors in the big matters, I also got the opportunity to argue several cases on my own. In fact in the Ayodhya matter, he asked who all I want on my team and then after the team was constituted, left it completely to me to go and brief Dr. Dhavan.
Host: You have also worked in the niche area of medical negligence, being a lawyer how do you approach a field which requires a significant amount of medical expertise as well.
Akriti: Many people don’t know this, but my father was a doctor, and even though I lost him very early in my life, his batchmates from AFMC kept in touch. So if you view it from that end , I have a slight advantage in this field. I have a team of well qualified senior doctors, some who also have a law degree, who see all medical negligence cases that I get. They help me understand the medical part of it, because without understanding it myself, neither can I draft nor can I argue effectively. After having understood all complexities, I proceed to draft – which draft is again shared with this team of doctors and that’s how we are able to get a quality draft out there. The understanding provided to me by an expert team of doctors, helps me in drafting and arguing effectively, and this approach has found favour with a lot of my clients, who feel more comfortable when they know that the lawyer already has a basic understanding of medicine.
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?
Akriti: It is definitely a good move. However, if had not been for the pandemic, the system in general was averse to such remote proceedings. This can be seen as in 2014 a division bench of SC had while allowing a transfer petition, made observations about the usage of video conferencing facility to hold matrimonial proceedings when both parties were not located within the jurisdiction of the same court.
Soon after this judgment was pronounced, the Supreme Court took to directing video conferencing in most transfer petition matters. However, this change was short lived, as a subsequent three-judge bench judgment of the Court in 2017 in Santhini v. Vijaya Venketesh overruled the judgment in Veni Nigam’s case.
Notably, the judgment in Santhini’s case was delivered by a 2:1 majority. While the majority (then Chief Justice Dipak Misra along with Justice AM Khanwilkar) took the view against video conferencing, Justice DY Chandrachud dissented and wrote an opinion in favour of video conferencing
And three years after that when COVID hit us, we saw Justice Chandrachud leading the process of virtual functioning of the SC.
I would say while it has helped litigants in the remote areas of the country, who can watch their proceedings from their native places. For instance, in a matter where I was involved, the parties were located in Kuwait and Calcutta but were able to do mediation through SC mediation centre as the proceedings were held online.
However, for the really voluminous cases, I believe we still need the physical courts.
Host: How would you rate the current legal system drive towards encouraging access to justice? Is there tangible movement in closing the justice gap?
Akriti : Definitely there is a movement, we see a lot of SC judges, encouraging young lawyers. If young lawyers are encouraged, then many litigants who don’t have the money to engage senior lawyers can engage young lawyers in their matters. Further, in the recent times, many SC judges have time and again asked senior as well as junior lawyers to do pro bono matters.
Further, I have from personal experience seen many of my friends and colleagues taking up pro bono matters, even in times of COVID when they were not necessarily earning, so I can say for sure that there is a movement, but I don’t think it is a uniform movement to a level that we can say that a tangible movement is ongoing, I think there are still a few years for that to happen.
So the potential is visible, but also the general public needs to be aware as to how to tap onto these resources, which are so to say not yet crystallised in a more institutional form.
Host: Finally, out of all the land mark matters you have worked on, Coal gate matter, Vodafone BIT, Entry Tax matter, triple talaq matter, Ayodhya dispute, which is the one matter which is the closest to your heart and why?
Akriti : Well that is a really difficult question, as apart from the law side, I learnt quite a lot about how to conduct oneself in these matters from the seniors that I was briefing- for instance from Mr. Salve I learnt- no job is big or small, one needs to put in the hardwork and one will get results, from Mr. Sibal – I learnt that one must never lose their cool. He used to say after a matter you should just ask yourself one thing- did I do my best? Could I have done anything else? I the answer is that you did your best and there was nothing else that you could have done- then you have done your job and you must not worry about the results as that is not in your hands; From Dr. Dhavan- I learnt to lead by example. For instance in Ayodhya when the team was working for 14-18 hours a day, Dr. Dhavan himself put in that number of hours, he used to always practice what he preached.
So in that way, each matter has given me life’s teachings, so to say, but closest has to be Ayodhya simply because I was given a free hand to brief, in a matter of such a scale and when we were against the opposition of the highest stature, being able to work with all of these legal stalwarts, and having been able to deliver, has definitely taught me invaluable lessons for the rest of my life.
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