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Legal (un) ease! – the house of linguistic horrors by Sr. Adv. Anish Dayal

“Originally published on 4-Apr-2012 in livemint in an online column ‘Lawyers Day Out’ by Anish Dayal now Senior Advocate Delhi High Court

What’s the chance that you have signed a legal submission to be presented before a Court that starts as “The Petitioner hereinabovenamed – Most Respectfully Sheweth”?! Or have seen a contract starting as “Now this Deed Witnesseth” and ending as “In Witness Whereof”?!! Or even still signed off a Power of Attorney drafted by the friendly neighbourhood lawyer stating “Now Know You All and These Presents Witness”? If often enough, then you are an old hand at ignoring these fossilized usages of the English language. If none, then welcome to the world of uneasy legalese in India. A world which steadfastly refuses to address the almost ridiculous use of outdated English phrases. A world which would have Shakespeare jiving in his grave for this continued use of archaic English in contemporary documents.

A quick google search on “Most Respectfully Sheweth” will throw up (not surprisingly) almost dozens of Indian legal drafts and petitions! A search on “Sheweth” however will (most informatively) throw up the following entry “sheweth is archaic third-person singular simple present indicative form of shew (i.e. show) like in 1611, King James Version of the Bible – Psalms 37:21, The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth”.

I rest my case.

What’s all this about? It’s funny, no doubt. It’s almost eccentric and therefore charming, maybe. But, in all honesty, this kind of continued usage speaks of hide-bound attitude of legal draftsmen towards drafts. There is no judicial or Parliamentary diktat for compulsory use of 16th century language. On the other hand, there is no jail either for simply saying “The Petitioner would like to submit as follows” or “this document is witnessed by the following“. While the archaic usage arises out of certain inertia amongst lawyers, draftsmen and sundry others, it also creates a wall of incomprehensibility for the layperson. If legal procedures were not intimidating enough, the language of the drafts would definitely make your head spin. Billings Learned Hand, a US Supreme Court Judge and judicial philosopher of the 19th century said in a speech: “there is something monstrous in commands couched in invented and unfamiliar language; an alien master is the worst of all. The language of the law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it

English as the language of the Courts and the law is something we inherited from the British. It was comfortable and appropriate, maybe, in the hands of the English bred lawyers of the last century. But with the democratization of India and percolation of law in each citizen’s life, it is imperative that at least outdated and alien uses of the language be booted out. A friend quite deftly remarked once: “Most lawyers learn their English in Courts”. English not being a natural and obvious language of choice for all Indians, is learnt extensively by many in the courts including through the use and repeated use of such outdated phrases. And these are perpetuated perhaps in the belief that using such heavy verbiage adds to the importance and gravity of what one is stating. I can’t but totally disagree.

And if outdated language was not enough, there is the free and liberal use of Latin phrases, which dot the landscape of legal documents. I remember when I once received a draft letter for revision, from a commercial client. It stated that “we have inter alia the following problems with your conduct”. Now let’s be fair – inter alia is a lovely Latin phrase – it means “amongst other things” and is effectively used to convey that there could be other issues and the list of items that follow are not exhaustive. Inter alia, is the Chairman Emeritus of the “Latin legal phrase club”! Clearly, its almost extensive legal usage had brought it to be used by commercial men too, almost inadvertently. There was reason enough to cringe, but reason enough to accept it too. Same would be the case for mala fide and bona fide (in bad faith and in good faith). Such is its acceptance that it is considered perfectly fine to use (though unacceptable) in its adverbial sense – “mala fidely” or “bona fidely”. Therefore a sentence like “the Respondent malafidely did not pay up the due amount” becomes rather commonplace.

Eric Partridge’s compendium “Usage and Abusage” (published by Penguin Books) confesses to be a “declaration of war on English misuse”. It lists Archaisms and their modern equivalents. Among them (or inter alia!!) are commonly used legal phrases like “hereof” (of this); “heretofore” (upto this time); “thereafter” (after that time); “thenceforth” (from that time onwards); “whereof” (of which); “wherefore” (for which reason); “whosoever” (whoever). While the use of such words may seem harmless and not really obsolete, they certainly deserve a relook in our modern plain English times. I always find it odd that while on one hand we have language being distorted to suit mobile texting and facebook posts, on the other there is this undying love for the obscure when it comes to formal communication.

Strangely, while it is places like India which should be heralding the use of plain English, considering how well we have adopted the Queen’s language and almost claimed it as our own now, it is in its places of origin that the language is undergoing a revolution. In the UK, there are numerous Plain English initiatives, both private and public. Local governments have laid out massive efforts to ensure that government communication is easy to understand and they even publish an annual list of words that should not be used. An instructive article “Plain English and legal advice are essential bedfellows” in the UK Law Society Gazette aptly observes: “Scientists, accountants, chess players, IT folk, musicians, politicians, entrepreneurs, the army, teenagers, five-year-olds, stockbrokers – all these and many more use a private language when communicating with each other. But for some reason, lawyers in particular have a reputation for bamboozling non-lawyers with obscure jargon, Latin, Norman French, schedule numbers and unexplained legislative references.” It is for this reason that the UK Law Society has been working towards plain English usage. Sometime back, the UK government implemented the Lord Woolf Commission reforms which included simplifying the language of pleadings and legal procedure. So “plaintiff” became “claimant” and “ex parte” became “applications without notice”. While the English trot along on a different path, we in India are quite happy to be still swimming (and sinking) in a mysterious ancient linguistic quagmire.

Any dekko at the horrors of use of the English language in law cannot be complete without mention of classic Courtroom bloomers. These nuggets happen when lawyers or judges with exemplary flourish try and use English in a manner unprecedented, unexplored and definitely unexpected! So sample an Honourable Judge of a Court very innocently telling a young female lawyer that he has heard all her arguments but if she has any other points – she need not file written submissions (of her arguments) but can satisfy him orally! Or the senior counsel rubbishing his esteemed opponent by shouting that he cannot “paint everyone with the same toothbrush”!! Yes, no doubt, the world of law without these precious linguistic horrors would be too plain and boring. But surely we need to “sheweth” the door to some of its demons. There would be still enough to rollick over.

Bombay High Court Cause List

This article deals with the meaning and explanation of Cause Lists as mentioned on the website of the Bombay High Court.

What is the meaning of Cause Lists?

Cause List means the list of cases or “causes” which are listed for hearing on a particular day in the court. Each of the cases are listed with a Serial Number and are called out for hearing in the serial order in which they appear on the Cause List.

How many types of Cause Lists are there?

There are various types of Cause Lists which are sorted or filtered on the basis of the Judges Hearing the matters, the Subject matter, the nature of the case and also the urgency of the case.

The types of Causelists include:

  • Judge-wise
  • Advocate / Lawyer-wise
  • Officer-wise
  • Party-wise
  • Daily / Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Supplementary

What is the difference between Causelist and Display board?

Cause-list is the list of cases which are up for hearing in the court. The display board shows which case serial number in the cause list is being currently heard by the court.

Bombay High Court Display Board Guide

The Bombay High Court Display Board is a live tracker which lets you know which matter is being heard in which Court Room of the High Court of Judicature at Mumbai. This article deals with Frequently asked questions about the Display Board.

What is the Display Board of the Bombay High Court? Where can I track the LIVE cases being heard at the Bombay High Court?

The Bombay High Court has a “Display Board” option for tracking the live movement of cases on a daily basis. The Display Board shows the cases being heard presently at the High Court either through Physical Hearings or through Video Conferencing.

How to read the Court Display Board of Bombay High Court?

The Court Display Board can be accessed only through the Home Page of the Bombay High Court i.e. https://bombayhighcourt.nic.in. The Court display board is available for all three benches (branches) of the High Court i.e. Bombay, Nagpur and Aurangabad.

Why are some matters showing 20x, 50x, 90x as the Serial Numbers?

Regular Daily Board matters show up as Serial Number 1, 2, 3….. etc.

Some matters show 201, 202, 203 as the Serial Number in the Court Display. These are the Weekly Board matters.

Some matters show 501, 502, 503 as the Serial Number in the Court Display. This means that they are Production Board matters. These matters are at the Production stage.

Some matters show 901, 902 or 903 as the Serial Number in the Court Display. This means that the Supplementary Board matters are being heard. This usually happens when urgent matters which are permitted to be heard out of turn are taken up for hearing.

How do I know which Judge is hearing which case in which Court Room of the High Court?

The Coram of the Court indicates which Judges are presiding over or hearing the matters in that Court. There maybe a single judge or multiple judges. The name of the Judge is suffixed with a “J.” indicating that he/she is a “Justice / Judge”. When there are multiple Judges, it is indicated with a “JJ.” at the end.

To find out which Judge is “presiding over” or sitting in which Court Room you can hover your mouse over the Court Room No. which will then indicate the “Coram”.

Single Judge Coram
Division Bench (2 Judges)

What is the difference between Court No. and Court Room No.?

Court No. is the Serial Number given to the Judge’s Bench. This is usually in order of the Roster or even Seniority. Eg: The Chief Judge will always preside over Court No. 1.
Court Room No. is the Virtual or Physical Room in which the Judge is sitting at the physical location or online in the Virtual Hearings. Eg: Though whichever Court Room the Chief Judge presides over will be declared as Court No. 1, but the physical room or Virtual Room may have any other number. In the Example below the Chief Judge is presiding over Court Room No. 46.

What is the meaning of “Kept Back” cases?

When the Daily List of Cases (Causelist) is being called out for hearing serial number wise, those cases in which both parties were not ready to argue or parties were not present are “kept back” to be called out later in the day once the rest of the serial numbers on the board are dealt with. The Display Board shows the Serial Number of cases which were called out, but due to some reason were not heard and not even adjourned to another day. They will be called out again after all the remaining serial number cases are called out and dealt with.

The Court Display Board is giving me an error. What does the error mean?

If you receive the below error, it is most likely that you Refreshed the Display Board page manually. You do not need to refresh the page as the page is set to Auto-Refresh. You can see the last refresh time of the page on the top right hand side.

If you receive an error PLEASE VIEW DISPLAY BOARD DURING COURT WORKING DAYS/HOURS, it means you need to re-visit the Bombay High Court Website during the Court working hours. The Bombay High Court Display Board is active from 10:30 am to 6 pm and may extend beyond these timings depending on the court working schedule.

How do I refresh the Daily Board page of the Bombay High Court? Will it refresh on its own?

The Display Board will refresh on its own and does not need to be manually refreshed. If you do manually refresh it you may receive an error.

Intimation of Disapproval (IOD)

This article deals with the IOD or I. O. D. permission issued by the Municipal Authorities for Redevelopment of Buildings.

What is an Intimation of Disapproval?

An intimation of Disapproval is a letter issued by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) also known as the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika issued to a Builder / Developer of a Property who proposes to undertake some construction work on an existing or new building.

Why is it called Disapproval? Isn’t it an Approval?

The wording of the letter is in the negative and all the conditions are also in the negative, which is why it is a Disapproval of permission until the time that the conditions are fulfilled.

The wording of the letter states that:

With reference to your Notice U/S 337 of MMC act submitted with letter No. ……………. dated ……………. and delivered on …………………. and the plans, Sections Specifications and Description and further particulars and details of your buildings at ……………… furnished to me under your letter, dated ………….20, I have to inform you that I cannot approve the building or work proposed to be erected or executed, and I therefore hereby formally intimate to you under section 346 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act as amended upto date, my disapproval by thereof reasons:-

1. That you shall not pay the sum of Rs. ………………. ( in Words Rs.) as a security deposit which may be forfeited in the extent of your failure to comply with any of the condition mentioned herein.

2. That you shall not intimate the Municipal authorities in writing immediately after the shed is removed by you on / before the expiry date.

Which laws govern the issue of the IOD?

Section 346 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act deals with the issue of the IOD.

Why Do Some Traffic Signals Flash Red and Some Flash Yellow Amber in India?

Ever wondered, why do some traffic signals always flash red and others flash yellow/amber, especially at night? What do these flashing signals with different color codes mean? Do these blinking signals have any meaning?

If you have every stood at a cross road when the signals were working (but in standby mode on a continuous blink), like when a VIP was passing by or late at night when there is less traffic on the road, you may have seen that some traffic signals flash red and others flash yellow/amber.

They are specifically set to flash a specific color based on the type of road and based on the purpose of having the signal.

You will notice at a cross road, that the Arterial Road or Main Road or Highway will always have the Amber Light Flashing. A smaller road or a lane will have a Red Light Flashing. This is designed to allow the Arterial Road or Highway Traffic to have priority over the smaller road or the less priority road. A VIP Route or larger width road will always have traffic priority over a smaller road or lane.

What does a traffic signal blinking red indicate?

A red blinking signal indicates that the motorist must come to a complete stop and then proceed. They must yield or give way to the traffic coming from the other intersecting road.

What does a traffic signal blinking yellow/amber indicate?

A yellow blinking signal indicates that the motorist must come slow down and then proceed after checking if the road is clear. They get priority over the traffic coming from the other intersecting road.