Madras High Court judge apologises to four women for lawyer’s “insensitive” and “humiliating” questions

Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy said in his order that it was time that the legal system was a little more empathetic to the litigants.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Nov 27, 2022 | 10:03 AM Updated Nov 27, 2022 | 10:04 AM

Madras High Court 1

In a rare gesture, Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy of the Madras High Court apologised to four women litigants for the “insensitive” and “humiliating” questions of a cross-examining lawyer in a property dispute case.

“The purpose of the cross-examination is not to create indelible scars in the minds of the litigants or to humiliate them. It is time that we were a little more empathetic to the litigants who approach us,” the judge stated in order’s epilogue.

The case was a dispute over the partitioning of a private property, where four women — wife of one VR Mani and their three daughters — challenged the man’s decision to bestow all his property to a son he had begotten with another woman.

Mani had earlier abandoned his first family, seeking a male child.

According to the court order, during cross-examination, the defence lawyer “very high-handedly” put across questions to portray Mani’s first wife as a loose woman and questioned the paternity of her daughters.

Justice Bharatha Chakravarthy

Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy (MHC website)

While pointing out that the court found no evidence to back the lawyer’s allegations, the judge noted that such remarks were made only because the wife and daughters had claimed their legitimate share of the property.

“This kind of insensitivity and mistakes which assassinate the character are generally masked for public consumption in the judgment. But I am constrained to extract the same, because such insensitive cross-examination, especially in the absence of any valid material regarding the same, should not be resorted to. A learned brother member of the Bar had done so, which also happened under the supervision of the Court. Therefore, on this score also, this Court conveys its apologies,” Justice Chakravarthy said in his 24 November order.

Reflecting upon the society’s patriarchal mindset, the judge further stated: “We were a misogynistic society, but we are fast changing. If the Late V.R. Mani, had a thought/opinion that the female child is of no consequence for him and he could abandon his wife and marry illegally for the second time to have a male child and register his properties in the son’s name…it is not his individual mistake, but is the reflection of our collective failure.”

“On behalf of the society at large, this Court conveys the due apologies to the plaintiffs, the daughters and that they can be rest assured that they are as good as sons for all purposes and that is the purport of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005,” the judge added.

Deciding on the plea, the court held that the suit properties be divided by metes and bounds into 25 equal shares. The court allotted 19/25th shares of the property to the first wife and her daughters and said they were entitled to separate possession. The son was provided 6/25th share of the property.