11 February 2013 Business 10 Questions

Sarosh Zaiwalla

The international arbitrator on setting up the first Indian law firm in Britain and his tryst with the Bachchans and Sonia Gandhi.

When did you set up Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors?

In 1982. It was quite challenging because Britain hadn't seen a coloured professional in the legal fraternity.

You grew up in Mumbai. Did you not think of practising in India?

Nearly 50 per cent of my work is as an inter­national arbitrator. I would like to come here more often as an arbitrator, but I wouldn't want to practise here. The legal culture in India is very different from that in Britain.

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How different are the legal cultures?

In England, the judge hardly speaks and everyone is polite. Indian courtrooms are quite noisy. The proceedings are also more tedious.

How many international arbitrations has your firm handled?

About 1,200 across India, China, West Asia and Europe. We've been innovative in our approach.

You helped the Bachchans in the Bofors libel case and stopped a Sonia Gandhi biopic.

Yes. It was the first time that I witnessed the Indian political circle from close quarters.

And how was the experience?

Democracy is a maturing process here and requires constant vigilance. We need less cumbersome rules and a way to fund elections, keeping the process transparent.

The high point of being an arbitrator?

Co-hosting a dinner for Asian businesses with former UK prime minister John Major in 10 Downing Street's cabinet room in 1991.

Legal eagles you enjoyed working with?

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Lord Philips, the retired chief justice of the UK Supreme Court, and Soli Sorabjee and T.R. Andhyarujina in India.

You employed a young Tony Blair as counsel in a case for the Government of India?

Yes. It was the first case India won in the House of Lords.

Your message for aspiring lawyers?

Work with integrity, have a clean heart.

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