Legal Jottings

Late Prof. (Dr.) V.S. Mani shared his interesting experiences during his two stints as Legal Advisor to the Republic of Nauru.

  • Late Prof. (Dr.) V.S. Mani

I had some interesting experiences while working as Legal Adviser to the Republic of Nauru, Central Pacific during my two tours of duty during 1981-1990. I would like to share some of them with you.

A doctor in the Department of Justice?

I was arguably the first Ph.D. employed in the Department of Justice. The very next day I took charge, came a senior citizen of Nauru. He said, he was suffering from high fever, and he could not travel to the hospital. And he decided not to go to the hospital, when he heard that a doctor had joined the Justice Department. I had to give him a lecture on what my doctorate meant. He must have been surprised that there are doctors who could not cure diseases.

“I don’t want to see your face again in Court.”

A little before I reached Nauru, I heard there a Sri Lankan Resident Magistrate dealing with criminal cases as a Court of Sessions. He was annoyed with one of the Clerks of Court for some reason and shouted at him; “I don’t want to see your face again in Court.” The very next day, to be sure, this man, who was the but of the ire of the Judge, turned up wearing a huge hat on his head good enough to cover much of his face. This time the Judge roared: “Don’t you have any manners? You come to the Court with a hat on?” The Clerk removed the hat, begged the Judge’s pardon, but reminded him of his reprimand the previous day. This time, the Judge and the Courtroom roared with laughter.

“I want to hear the full details of what all exactly you did that day.”

Then there was a motor vehicle accident very early one morning. The case came before the Magistrate’s Court for hearing. This time the Court was presided over by an Indian Judge. The investigating Officer was a Nauruan Constable with a sharp mind and a bundle of humour. The Judge asked him to testify to what he investigated and what his findings were. The Investigating Officer began giving his testimony as a matter of fact - where the accident occurred, and approximately when, and the conditions of the injured. The Judge was obviously annoyed at what he thought was a perfunctory statement of the witness. He said: “Mr. Constable, this is no way of giving evidence as an Investigating Officer. I want you tell me all what you did and saw after you were into this case.” The Constable, with a mischievous smile, began, with “I beg your pardon, Your Honour.” “I was rudely woken up at 3 am, with the shrill of the telephone while I was enjoying a deep sleep, after a late night party. On hearing about the accident, I got up, went to the wash basin, washed my face, visited the bathroom ------------“The Judge had enough and he knew he asked for it. Exasperated, he told the Constable to give his testimony in his own way and be done with it!

A Dictionary for a Bible!

Mondays were always tough for some of the islanders who followed the Australian tradition of developing a heavy hangover after a long weekend of partying. And this Monday was no exception. The Court Clerk had to get the Courtroom ready for the first case by 8 a.m. With all the diligence he had, he looked for the Bible, which was such an essential part of witness testimony. Usually, they kept it rapped up with a piece of red cloth. It was nearing the Court hour and there was no time left for fetching the Bible. Finally, a book rapped up with a piece of red cloth was indeed kept on the Judge’s table. The Clerk produced the ‘red’ book with a flourish before one witness after another and made him swear. The story unravelled itself, when the real Court Bible was discovered later in the day on one of the shelves. The ingenious Clerk proved that the witness could take oath even on a dictionary if properly draped in a red cloth! (Enjoy the humour and do not debate on the legal validity of those testimonies.)

Judge as a witness? Avoid it if you can.

An Indian Judge was standing outside his residence on the island one morning, when his neighbour living in the opposite house came out and began reversing his car, as he proceeded to his office. He was indeed notorious for his clumsy driving (in spite of an International Driving Licence that he had procured from one of the cities in India). As he reversed with a jerk, his car hit a fire hydrant by the side of the road and the water began jetting out. The Judge suddenly ran inside his house and closed the door. When I asked him later why he did so, he said; “I don’t want to be a witness, should the incident eventually turn up before the court!”

Why did you not cast your vote?

The Constitution of the Republic of Nauru postulates that every Nauruan citizen of at least 17 years old has a duty to exercise his vote in every Parliamentary election. The Election Commissioner (the Chief Secretary) has the corresponding duty to issue notices to defaulters to explain why penalty should not be imposed on them. After an election, in the case of one defaulter, this was the explanation; “I had a late night partying the day before. So I fell asleep and was sleeping the whole the Election Day”!

High Commissioner Banned!

There was a Sub-Inspector who was extremely alert and meticulous in performance of his duties. It was the Independence Day, and this officer was in-charge of traffic on a particular main road leading to the venue of the Independence Day celebrations. He was instructed to close the road in front of the super market sharp at 10 am. He did so quite earnestly. He did not allow any vehicles, public or private, to pass that way. Not even the Australian High Commissioner’s car was allowed. The High Commissioner pleaded with him, and showed him the official invitation to the function. Finally, the High Commissioner had to contact the Minister in charge of Police who intervened and facilitated the High Commissioner’s participation in the public function. When asked why he did not allow the High Commissioner’s car to pass, the dutiful Sub-Inspector said, “I had no special instructions.”

LATE PROF. (DR.) V.S. MANI was the Founder- Director of the School of Law and Governance, Jaipur National University.