Hindu haloes

Imagine this: two barristers and a solicitor sitting at the hand of a god. The start of a bad joke? (“And one of them said to the god…”.) An attempt at irony? Lawyers and gods hardly go hand-in-hand, after all.

No. This is fact. Once every year John McDonnell QC (13 Old Square), Robert Pearce (11 New Square) and partner Robin Lewis (Bindman & Partners) sit on thrones at the Swaminarayan temple in Finchley Road, next to the Acharya Shree Purushottampriyadasji Swamishree, who, if you a member of the Hindu Swaminarayan sect, is a god.

The lawyers wear turbans (in addition to their work suits) and have red bindi dots painted on their foreheads; they make speeches before a vast assembled audience of Hindus, who gather from all parts of the world for the event of celebration and honour. The event is filmed, food unique to the Swaminarayan sect is served, and the lawyers chat easily with the Hindu god. The lawyers are highly-regarded members of the congregation and are treated with the utmost respect for these two hours or so every year.

Why is this? After all, the lawyers are not followers of the Swaminarayan faith and they have no special interest in the sect.

They do, however, have a special knowledge of it thanks to having acted once on behalf of an Acharya (which roughly translates as teacher) in the English High Court in the case Varsani v Jesani. This dispute concerned how the Swaminarayan faith’s assets should be divided after another Acharya split off from the main sect and claimed himself leader. McDonnell’s client prevailed, with the court ruling that he should continue to own most of the assets.

Therefore, every year such homage is paid to McDonnell and his legal team. Now why, Tulkinghorn asks, can’t all clients treat their lawyers with such respect?