Writing judgments is an Art, not science. The interconnection between
Literature and Law has been acknowledged as far back as 2000 years ago in the
time of Greek Philosopher Plato. Plato's prominent words that:
A society's Law Book should, in right and reason prove, when we open it, far
the best and finest works of its whole Literature
is cited as a proof of
Judges are often intrigued by the Urdu language and the same has been witnessed
in courtrooms in either verbal or written form. It is fascinating to note that
Urdu is not solely found in between judgments, but there are moments when a
courtroom proceeding is sparked with a Urdu shayari in an exchange between
judges and lawyers.
Justice Markandey Katju quoted these famous lines by the 18th century poet Mirza
Ghalib while delivering judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug mercy killing case.
Shanbaug, a nurse at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital who was sexually
assaulted in 1973 by a hospital staff, had been in a vegetative state for 37
years. A difficult case to handle, the judgment was momentous in numerous ways.
Perhaps, to convey a sense of pain and agony Shanbaug went through all these
years, Justice Katju aptly quoted Ghalib in his 141-page judgment wrote,
Marte Hain Aarzoo Mein Marne Ki, Maut Aati Hai Par Nahin Aati
longing for death/but death, despite being around, is elusive).
While judges might reach far and wide within the literary canon for quotable
quotes, of course, the perennial favourite to this day remains William
In Pebam Ningol Mikoi Devi vs State Of Manipur And Ors
, 2010, Supreme
Court Judges HL Dattu and DK Jain borrowed from Shakespearean wisdom to make a
point about liberty.
Individual liberty is a cherished right, one of the most valuable Fundamental
Rights guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizens of this Country, wrote
Justice HL Dattu and proceeded to quote Shakespeare: On liberty', William
Shakespeare, the great play writer, has observed that A man is master of his
While Justice Dattu might have straightforwardly quoted the famous playwright,
the Calcutta High Court took a more interesting turn in the year 2000, comparing
the of a Judicial Magistrate's order in relation to a petition for maintenance
to that of the Shakespearean play Merchant of Venice.
The order, authored by Justice A Talukdar, said:
While rummaging through the order... I am reminded of the Shakespearian drama of
'Merchant of Venice.' William Shakespeare in that celebrated play had divided
the entire drame sequence into three phases, (a) ring episode (b) casket episode
and (c) court scene. It seems the learned Magistrate has taken a leaf from the
Shakespearian drama and divided the pathetic sequence of the real life drama of
the Petitioner into: (a) first episode after marriage when the Parties resided
at G.I.P. Colony in the house of Pritambar Pradhan where she came to learn that
the Opposite Party had illicit relationship with one Dipti Sarkar. (b) Second
episode began when they shifted to Kasba where she was kept confined in the
flat and was assaulted and (c) the last and final episode started on 06.8.95
the date on which the Opposite Party handed over the Petitioner to some unknown
person who claimed himself to be a doctor of mental patient.
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no telling
who that it's naming
For the loser now
will be later to win
Cause the times they are a-changing.
That's Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin, warning
writers and critics, who prophesies with their pen, not to jump the gun
But these lines found a quite different reading in the Kerala High Court, in the
hearing of a petition against the state's liquor policy. The judgement
pronounced on January 6, pertained to a petition by Perumbavoor native MS Anoop,
challenging the state policy, claiming that it was a violation of one's
fundamental rights. Dismissing the petition, the division bench comprising of
Justice PR Ramachandra Menon and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu maintained that,
common good takes lead and subordinates individual's
However, the judges concluded the 46-page judgment, with a ray of hope, courtesy
Bob Dylan. Quoting the renowned musician's lines, they accentuated that, what is
today morally reprehensible and socially unacceptable may not be so tomorrow.
While the Kerala HC's reference to Dylan is seldom in referencing a modern
songwriter,the esteemed judges of India have often turned to literary sources
when plain legal language has been considered insufficient to the task.
In the matter of Ashok Kumar Aggarwal vs CBI, Justice Siddharth Mridul in
Para 50, nattily quoted:
If it were done when 'tis done, 'twere well. It were done quickly. Shakespeare,
Macbeth (Scene VII), elucidating on the legal position which emerges the
question of validity of a sanction must be decided as soon as it is raised and
cannot be postponed to a later stage of trial, as an invalid sanction goes to
the very root of the jurisdiction of the Court that has taken cognizance.
Further in Para 90 (d) , while casting light on the conduct of CBI quoted an
All [men] are equal, but some are more
equal than the others.
-George Orwell, Animal Farm
While finding no substantial evidence in the charge against the petitioner
A couplet in Para 92 by Kaif Bhopali is apposite:
Janab-E-'Kaif' Yeh Dilli Hai 'Mir' O 'Ghalib'
Ki, Yahan Kisi Ki Taraf-Dariyan Nahin Chaltin.
While stating the tribulation faced by petitioner on account of prolonged
litigation between him and the official respondents, he had endured suffering,
humiliation and considerable trauma and the same was encapsulated by Justice
Mridul when he quoted Bob Dylan How many roads must a man walk down, before you
call him a man?
In a nutshell, it can be concluded that citing Literature in judicial opinion
proves to be a versatile technique, which if used sparingly with care, can
embellish a judgment.