Do judges judge themselves? Not long ago, sniffing out a preconceived notion while dealing with a sensitive matter of sexual orientation and identity, he dared to go public with an ‘I’m not woke’ admission. It didn’t stop with mere introspection but voluntary psychological counselling. The consequential viewing of the LGBTQIA+ community “as they are”, converted what could have been a prejudicial millstone around his neck into an epoch-making milestone in judicial history.
That’s Justice N.Anand Venkatesh for you. Stepping out of his comfort crease to whack his inherent prejudice out of the judicial park, he even labelled the petitioners S.Sushma & Seema Agarval and the psychologists as his “gurus” who helped him in this “process of evolution” and pulled him “out of darkness.” The shouldering of the ‘collective conscience’ of society and looking at the LGBTQIA+ community beyond the prism of sexual relations, through this path breaking and unprecedented ruling, won him accolades, justifiably, as a ‘Daniel come to judgment’. The order has had a cascading effect with the National Medical Commission issuing an advisory to medical institutions and authors of text books to refrain from discriminatory references to the LGBTQIA+ community.
An all-rounder, Justice Venkatesh’s decisions on criminal law are just as enlightening. In a case on the power of remand, he clarified that a magistrate is not expected to conduct a “roving inquiry” into the “sufficiency of materials as the investigation would be at a nascent stage”. The upshot was that “when remanding the accused, it is obligatory on the part of the Magistrate to apply his mind to the facts of the case and not to pass a remand order automatically or in a mechanical fashion.” A sort of reminder to the players in the criminal justice system to take their ‘tool kits’ seriously.
In a recent seminal decision on intellectual property law, the ruling that an Indian company is permitted to grant a licence under the Copyright Act only if it is registered as a Copyright Society, cleared the misty air on this contentious issue.
A sure shot sign of open-mindedness is when he regularly invites members of the Bar to make submissions on intricate questions of law. Should the State that sells liquor be made an abettor for offences triggered by alcoholism? Does a person acquitted of a crime have a right to seek redaction of personal information from the public domain in the wake of privacy being declared a fundamental right? Just two examples of treating the Bar as one of the wheels in the chariot of justice that we keep hearing at umpteen events.
The affable demeanour can morph into a serious visage. Justice Venkatesh can be unsparing when the situation arises. A few years ago, he was constrained to initiate contempt proceedings against an acquaintance who attempted to influence him in a case. In another instance, he rapped the Chennai Police on the knuckles for not allowing his car to pass on his way to work, resulting in a delay in reaching the court. Truth be told, he also holds no grudges and was quick to compliment the Police for a recent circular not to harass the LGBTQIA+ community. And when a video clip of Police Inspector Rajeshwari carrying an injured man on her shoulders and rushing him to the hospital during the floods surfaced, he met the lady cop and handed over a letter of appreciation.
Known for his erudition, candour, fearlessness and relief-oriented approach, here’s a judge who reads cases so thoroughly that often just brief submissions from the counsel would suffice for passing interim orders. Or dismissal. It’s a judicious blend of a patient hearing and expeditious disposal that is on display. Not the sort of public figure to pontificate, Justice Venkatesh speaks the language of the masses. Whether it’s a Law University Convocation address, where he recently broke into an Illayaraja song or a bar association event where an excerpt of his talk on the four stages of a lawyer’s earnings – no work, no money; some work, no money; some work, some money and no work, only money, his speeches tend to go viral.
A first generation lawyer, a young Anand Venkatesh began internship from the end of his very first year law course. Trudging from the Law College campus to Chamber No.43 of Mr.B.Ramamoorthy, he cut his teeth in the profession, along with Usha, who would go on to become his life and law partner. The advocate couple snapped their umbilical cord with their senior and started independently just a few years post enrolment, with branches ranging from regular civil and criminal matters to writs and service law in the original and appellate side in the High Court as well as subordinate courts. On quite a few occasions, his appointment as an Advocate Commissioner came in handy to keep the home fires burning and the gestational pangs at bay. Fortune favoured the independent, as a Godsend emerged in the form of Mr.V.Sundarajan, who kept engaging the duo in a slew of regular cases in their formative years.
A doting dad to Ramanan, Justice Venkatesh is a fitness enthusiast who hardly ever misses his workout in the gym, cricketer, music afficionado and voracious reader.
Self effacing and down to earth, the nod for this feature, meant to inspire youngsters to join the profession, came with a caveat – “no exaggeration.” One hardly needs to exaggerate while chronicling this judge’s feats and the impact he has made over three and a half years since his elevation to the Bench. The challenge lies in condensing his contribution to the March of Law within a word limit! For instance, his role in the Consultation and Drafting Committee that led to the enactment of the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act, 2015, was significant, to say the least.
For now, he is busy setting new ‘Bench’marks in the Madras High Court.