New Delhi: Moodbidri Veerappa Moily continues as law minister after the recent cabinet reshuffle. The 71-year-old former chief minister of Karnataka talks about foreign law firms, regulating the legal profession, the chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) case in the Supreme Court and the political strategy of the Congress party. Edited excerpts:
What are your thoughts on the entry of foreign law firms in India?
The matter is before the Madras high court. I think it is also before the MP (Madhya Pradesh) high court. Bombay high court has already given some judgement...maybe there are some (more) high courts also… I think maybe we need to…wait for the judgement. I think some of them are contemplating some cases to be filed before the Supreme Court. So, all these cases can be transferred to the Supreme Court so that a view can be taken ultimately.
The additional solicitor general is saying there’s a consultation between the Bar Council and the law ministry and they will file a counter affidavit after the consultation.
I know. He is right because we are also talking to the Bar Council of India (BCI). Then I had some rounds of talks with the BCI chairman, and you know, we are discussing that, and thereafter we will definitely.
What is the Bar Council’s view?
Bar Council, they are yet to take a view on that—that’s the difficulty. But these days a lot of business is involved there. To me there is a big history before that, you know. When the US lawyers wanted to come to the UK, there was a similar resistance. They said, “No, our business will go and we’ll disappear,” and all sorts of things. Now you must see how many, more than 20-25 law firms (have come to the UK). This kind of a competition, then ultimately lot of business, corporate business we have. China—they were resisting this for some time. Ultimately today, China, they think they have to go to other countries and make business.
Tomorrow, our country should not be driven to the back seat in this. Some aggressive approach from our lawyers also should be done. Yes, there should be a capacity building within our lawyers. They should be ready…because ultimately it is not only litigation today. There’s a lot of area of the non-litigation side. We require a lot of corporate lawyers. I think we should not hesitate to…I don’t say now, because unless we have a proper discussion (with BCI), I don’t want to give a value judgement on that.
Would you say it’s a good thing to allow foreign law firms in?
No, no, no. Don’t come to that conclusion. In that case I will be inviting big agitation tomorrow. Before we go in for that, there should be some proper capacity building. Otherwise our lawyers cannot have the onslaught from the rest of the world. So we need to build because certain things need to be done and that is why Bar Council and the government, we are thinking of that. Tomorrow, I want my lawyers to be global players. For example, I visited London sometime back—80 lawyers from the national law school universities were there, prospering like anything, working in various companies. Good to see a sight like that. You know, our lawyers also should not be impoverished lawyers. Tomorrow they should be dynamic, resourceful to earn money. I pioneered the National Law School University (in Bangalore). Now we have 14 law school universities, but that alone is not enough. I am establishing another 14 law school universities.
Coming back to the Bar Council, you’ve proposed the creation of two new entities. In this Legal Practitioners Bill, there’s the Legal Services Board…
Yes, we have proposed these things. But we are getting the reactions, comments from various bodies, including Bar Council. And I’m going to have a discussion with Bar Council and the rest of the stakeholders on this (Legal Practitioners) Bill.
What will the role of the Bar Council be if you enact this Bill?
No, no, Bar Council on the profession, their role is not taken away, even under this (Bill). You see this Bill, which I have contemplated, is only a regulator, which you have in the UK (or) any other country. Because there should be a regulator, you know. This cannot be...regulator and also the governance cannot go together. Regulator should be over-arching regulator, which will govern the whole thing. That’s what we are contemplating even on the MCI (Medical Council of India). MCI will be there, but at the same time, over and above that, there will be a regulator.
You’ve proposed a National Commission for Higher Legal Education and Research, which intends to do what the Bar Council does as an oversight committee for legal education. Again, what is going to happen to the role of the Bar Council?
We want to demarcate the profession. They (BCI) will have to look after the profession. As far as the legal education is concerned, it has to be taken over by this body.
There are people at the Bar Council who are unhappy.
I know. Any change is painful. It will cause some pain. Just like giving birth to a new baby. So, naturally, and we’ll sort it out with them. We are talking to them.
People are saying why are you doing it at this point of time, because since April last year, there’s been a spurt of reform in the Bar Council.
I have no comments on that. We need to do a lot on legal education. We have a big agenda. That’s what we’re contemplating.
Where are we on the Lokpal Bill(to combat corruption with fast-track courts to prosecute public officials)?
One Bill is being circulated. We have drafted the Bill. Now again the matter—there is a GoM (group of ministers) appointed now. And GoM has this five-point programme. Of the five-point programme, which are spelt out by our Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) in the plenary session of the Congress party. So all those five points—these include Lokpal Bill, establishment of fast-track courts against corruption, and this includes other items. Within 60 days this GoM headed by (finance minister) Pranab Mukherjee has been asked to give a report. So, this is going to have a big impact, particularly against corruption.
Your ministry had sought an opinion from all the ministries on this and there were some differences over the coverage—which offices should be covered in the Bill. Has that been sorted out?
GoM will address these issues.
These fast-track courts, they will be special courts?
Yeah, yeah. Now, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) has got a special court. Even in the state government, sparingly, I don’t say it’s widespread, they have established special courts on corruption charges. So, we need to do it in a big way now. And I’ve already asked for the details of these corruption cases pending under the various high courts and subordinate courts. Once we get it, I know how many (courts) we need to establish.
There is a view that there is a so-called judicial activism, with the judiciary making remarks on each and everything, even the Prime Minister, at one point of time. What is your view on this?
No, no, the question is, the difficulty is with your media. Court is transparent proceeding. What happens you know, I appear for one party, you appear for another party. Then I put up a very strong view with all the vocabulary under my command. You put your views. Ultimately, this is what the discussions take place. Then judiciary is an umpire. As an umpire, he should find out the truth and he will start putting searching questions. That doesn’t mean that is a finding. Judges one and all, not everybody is the same. Some of the judges, they will put provocative questions. Unfortunately, our journalists should also be trained. What is order? What is judicial order? What is judgement? What is the off-the-cuff remark? What are the searching questions? I think journalists need some training on this. When you are reporting on some judicial proceeding, you must exercise some restraint.
Now that the government is at the receiving end of this…
No, no, it is not a question of receiving end. The question is the press, media distorting things. You cannot afford to do that.
The government is at the receiving end of the press and the judiciary?
No, no, that is a different matter. Judiciary, you know, they have the power. And they will have to arrive at a truth. They are doing that. In the process, if the media distorts everything and puts out...it can be harmful, harmful for the society.
What about in the CVC case, when the attorney general said the panel which appointed the CVC didn’t know about the criminal case against (P.J.) Thomas?
No, no, no. You should keenly observe the question put by the judge. Court has put the question: whether the Palmolein case details is part of the record?
And the attorney general (AG) said it was not a part of the record.
He said no. If it is (not) there, how can he say yes? When he said no, it is no. That’s all. That is the pointed question. Then, what should have been part of the record? What ought to be a part of the record? …is a matter, you know court may say tomorrow, in a matter like this the record will have to be put up and everything. That’s it. Only question put was whether it’s a part of the record. That AG said no. But immediately the press came out and bloated. On that press statement, (BJP leader) Sushma Swaraj reacted.
Being the devil’s advocate here for the journalists, if you take AG Vahanvati’s statements in their entirety he was saying that the Palmolein part was not put up, meaning, implicitly there was a flaw in the CVC’s selection process.
That is another part. What should form a part of the record? It’s a matter on which tomorrow court can comment. They are entitled to comment. And of course, the government is also entitled to correct its course. That’s another part. But in this case was it part of the record? That becomes important. If it is not part of the record, PM has no way to know about it. So, that means PM has no role.
But it raises bigger questions on the process.
That is a different matter. Process what is adopted is correct or not is another matter. Court may tomorrow order that this is not the correct process. They are entitled to that. Or the government can also learn the lesson that you know in future, procedure, process we’ll have to change. That’s the other part. I don’t say no to that. But at the same time, when the question was put, it is for an argument tomorrow, for a further argument.
Are you saying there was some kind of error on the part of the government?
No, no, it is not for me to say. But it is already now before the court. When it is before the court, I’m not passing a value judgement. Whether the process, the procedure adopted is correct or not, is not for me to say that. I’m not going to say it today. Tomorrow, yes, the court gives a judgement, thereafter we may correct it, or we may modify it.
Despite being strong in a coalition, the government is not able to take a strong stand in Parliament.
No, no. Always, the main opposition, if they can take a stand, which is not conducive for running a parliamentary democracy, that is a bad day. Any ruling party, normally we will not bulldoze things. We don’t want to keep any people outside. We want them to partake in the debate. That’s the healthy democracy. And our intention is to have a healthy democracy, not to keep some opposition parties away from the proceeding and run the show. We are not interested in doing that. Ultimately, this is the best platform available to you.
What’s in the reform pipeline over the next eight-nine months?
The Commercial Division of High Courts Bill has already been approved by the standing committee, cabinet has already approved, we have already presented the Bill (in Parliament). And Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill we have presented to Parliament and that has been entrusted to the standing committee, possibly they may give a report. Then NRI Bill we have already got it passed—voting rights to the NRIs (non-resident Indians). And the constitutional amendment of giving another 10 years to the schedule castes and schedule tribes—we have already got it passed in the last session. And the Women’s Reservation Bill, that has been passed by the Rajya Sabha, it is pending before the Lok Sabha now.
But business has this big grouse that the United Progressive Alliance government has let them down on three big laws—Companies Bill, direct tax code, goods and services tax (GST). How do you react?
No, no, no. After all, the Direct Taxes Bill has gone to the standing committee, it has to come back. Or it must have come back, I don’t know. Now GST also the same thing. We’ve got it ready—the legislative department has done our job. Then the question of Companies Bill—we have cleared that. It has to now be presented (to Parliament). So, all these things are ready now.
Companies Bill is at which stage now? Will you reintroduce it?
No, no, there are some amendments. Comprehensive amendments are being contemplated now.
Assuming that this budget session happens, suppose there is some kind of truce. We expect lots of legislation to…
We expect, because the Budget is important—that occupies major space. Then, you know, some of these Bills will come from various departments.
Politically your party faces three crucial elections, and you have a good chance of being in power in all three. How do you see your party doing?
Yeah, yeah. elections are happening Kerala, the Congress will bounce back, or UDF (United Democratic Front) will bounce back. Tamil Nadu, yes, with Congress alliance with DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), there’s every chance of coming back.
As far as Assam is concerned, we are very strong there, party is very strong. With some one or two minor party’s alliance, we are going to come back. All these, and West Bengal, you know what it is—TMC (Trinamool Congress) and the Congress combination is very strong.
Inflation is not going to take its toll?
Inflation will be talked about. It is a transitional stage. Always inflation—sometimes comes up, comes down. That depends upon world market also. Ultimately, the people have lived through this crisis.