The Sports Law & Policy Centre | Interview with Retd. Justice Mukul Mudgal
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Interview with Retd. Justice Mukul Mudgal


Interview with Retd. Justice Mukul Mudgal

Could you please tell us a little about your professional journey? What brought you to the legal profession and, more recently, what has motivated your interest in sports law?

I graduated in Honours in Chemistry from Hindu College, Delhi University. I always had interest in law as I always strove to get justice for the underdog. I am a first generation lawyer as all my family is in Indian classical music and dance. I joined as full time junior to Dr. Y.S Chitale, who was a leading constitutional Senior Counsel practising in the Supreme Court. I was an advocate on record in the Supreme Court from 1986-1995 and handled as amicus several important cases such as Sunil Batra, Prem Shankar Shukla relating to prison reforms and environmental and gender justice and under trial cases. My interest in sports was occasioned by my being in the aquatics and water polo team of my almamater Modern School, Barakhamba Road, Delhi. I was and am an avid fan of field sports such as cricket, football and hockey. I was a lawyer for the 8 banned cricketers of India in the Supreme Court in 1989 when a ban was imposed by the BCCI for an unapproved trip by the cricketers after the official West Indies tour. I represented the T.T. player Chandrashekhar in a medical negligence case against a well-known hospital chain.

What are your fondest memories as a young advocate in the early part of your career? Who were your mentors and role models?

My fondest memory as a young advocate was being appointed as amicus curiae in Sunil Batra case. This case arose as Sunil Batra, a convict on the death row, complained by a post card sent to Justice Krishna Iyer of the inhuman and cruel conditions of the solitary cell for convicts under sentence of death. I along with my senior Dr. Y.S. Chitale visited the death cell and prepared a report. This led to an inspection of the solitary confinement cell by 3 sitting judges of the Supreme Court. The Constitution Bench of Supreme Court which included Justice Krishna Iyer pronounced a landmark judgement asserting the rights of prisoners. This post card was the beginning of the epistolary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court which led to the Public Interest Litigation taking a firm root in the Supreme Court and other High Courts. As Secretary Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee I also handled several other important Constitutional questions regarding undertrials, mentally ill prisoners and environment and gender justice. These cases sensitised me to the plight of the underprivileged who, could through the medium of Public Interest Litigation, air their grievances in the Supreme Court and for the first time were able to feel a part of the Constitutional jurisprudence of India. This was a glorious chapter in the history of the Supreme Court.

My mentors were naturally my senior Dr. Y. S. Chitale who was a very tough taskmaster at work but an extraordinarily generous human being. I was also influenced by the learning and humane qualities of Shri Soli Sorabjee. The standards set by Mr. Fali S. Nariman, Shri Ashok Desai, and Shri K.K. Venugopal have also guided me.

During your career, you presided over some landmark decisions impacting the Indian sports industry. What would you characterise as some of the most interesting legal questions you encountered in this field?

The most important issue decided by me was in Delhi High Court in Ajay Jadeja’s case where it was held that BCCI is amenable to the Writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. The principles laid down in this judgement were first approved by the division bench of the Delhi High Court in Rahul Mehra’s case and then by 5 judges of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Zee Telefilms case regarding the maintainability of a Writ petition under Article 226 against sporting bodies like BCCI.

The other case related to a case filed by ESPN against various news channels for unauthorised utilisation of large cricket footage during the Bucknor-Harbhajan Singh controversy. I laid down important principles regarding how much footage qualified as news.

In 2010, you published “Law and Sports in India – Development Issues and Challenges”, which is to our knowledge the only text on Indian sports law. Broadly, what do you feel are the main development issues and challenges that exist for sports in India in the modern era?

The foremost challenge that I hope to overcome with the publication of the book is the lack of understanding of legal aspects in sports that exists in India, due to which the Indian Sport is suffering on the international scenario. The sportspersons and their representatives need to understand their rights and obligations from the day they turn professional. Besides knowledge of the sporting rules, they need to understand the parameters within which their relationship need to exist (like FIFA Regulations on the Statutory Transfer of Players’ amongst others), the various kinds of agreements that are existing in professional and amateur sports and their intricacies, besides understanding their right to have their grievances addressed

Besides this the book seeks to highlight some glaring lacunae that exist in the various aspects of sports in India for example though the NADA has adopted the WADA code blindly, is Indian Sports geared up to cater to these rules, especially the ones pertaining to ‘whereabouts clause’. Another aspect is that it has been blindly accepted that sports betting is an evil in sport and is illegal in India. The book has analysed the pros and cons of sports betting besides evaluating the legal framework within which it function.

I hope that these issues amongst others would be duly considered by the courts, Ministry of youth Affairs and Sports, Sport administrators, players and other stakeholders in order to develop a structural and a professional sport culture in India.

How would you trace the development of the laws relating to sports in India over the past decade? Do you think that it is increasingly become a definitive area of law?

Sports worldwide is posed with this very question, is law relating to sports a definitive area of law. As it stands today, sports is governed by the IOC charter, decisions of CAS, decisions of various courts in respective territories, WADA, Sports ministries of countries and various disciplinary and like bodies set up by various sports bodies. In the European Scenario there has been an attempt to develop a regional soft law through the White Paper in Sport but much need to be done to make it a definitive area of law.

As Chair of the Committee formed to fine-tune Draft National Sports Development Bill what, in your opinion, is the appropriate balance between government oversight and autonomy of sports bodies? How do you react to the various suggestions that the Bill is intrusive in sports administration and could lead to government intrusion and over-reach?

The Committee has submitted its suggestions and comments on the Draft National Sports Development Bill, 2011 to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. As the Bill is still in its draft form and is to be piloted enacted by the Government and legislated by the Parliament, it is not appropriate at this stage to make any comments on the merits of the Bill.

Finally, what advice would you offer to the young batch of lawyers and to-be- lawyers as they make their way in the profession?

The first thing a successful lawyer needs to learn is to do hard work and be sincere. A court lawyer needs to be very observant and needs to understand that knowing the characteristics of the judge who is going to hear your case is vital. Patience is the hallmark of a litigating lawyer and success comes slowly but steadily and one should not lose patience at the low returns in the beginning of the career. Never refuse the brief of a litigant needing justice who does not have the means to pay your fees. Above all develop a reputation for reliability, integrity and honesty. This will pay dividends in the long run. A reputation of a sharp lawyer spreads very fast particularly among judges. Law is however a demanding but very rewarding career for someone who wants to be independent and one’s own master.