Justice and the rule of law are perhaps two of the noblest concepts evolved by the wit of man. To the Romans, Justice was a goddess whose symbols were – a throne that tempests could not shake, a pulse that passion could not stir, eyes that were blind to any feeling of favour or illwill, and the sword that fell on all offenders with equal certainty and with impartial strength. It was said by a great thinker that God is more palpably present in a Court of justice than in a monastery. Ancient Indian culture pays a similar tribute to dispensers of justice. But in our own times there has been a precipitate diminution of this universal admiration and a sharp erosion of the values which ought to actuate the administration of justice.
Doubtless, the law is imperfect, and it would be imperfect even if it were made by a committee of archangels. This is understandable. But according to an eminent writer, the Court is no longer looked upon as a cathedral but as a casino: if you are dissatisfied with the Trial Court’s judgment, you double the stakes and go to the Division Bench; if you are dissatisfied with the Division Bench judgment, you treble the stakes and go to the Supreme Court.
If some people in our country believe that the difficulties we face in our administration of justice are due to British influence, I would emphatically dissent from such a view. I do not think that the British should be blamed for the ailments afflicting our legal system today. If we did not have the rules of British jurisprudence, it would be impossible to administer justice in this country.
There are three grave shortcomings of the present system of administering justice.
Firstly, the commercialization of the legal profession. I do not think the legal profession was ever so commercialized as it is today. When I started my practice in 1946 on the Original Side of the Bombay High Court, if a counsel made a factual statement to the judge, it was implicitly believed to be true, You seldom heard of an affidavit, filed on behalf of the government or any public authority, which did not contain the whole truth. But today a lot has changed. Counsels often make statements which are factually incorrect, and affidavits are after filed, even on behalf of public authorities, which do not state the truth. Unfortunately, we accept perjury as a fact of Indian life. The worst danger is not that even persons in high public office perjure themselves. The worst danger lies in public acceptance of such degradation of national character. As a man who loves India not wisely but too well, I ask the question – Why can we not have standards as high as those of mature democracies in the world? After all, our ancient culture is the noblest ever known.
Secondly, administration of justice suffers from the intractable complexity of modern society. Life has become far more complex, and corruption and all round lowering of standards are more pronounced, than ever before. One is reminded of the remark of Dr. Adenauer, a former Chancellor of West Germany. He said, “In creating man, God hit upon a very poor compromise. If he had made man more intelligent, he would have known how to behave; if He had made man less intelligent, he would have been easier to govern.” This remark neatly sums up the dilemma of democracy.
Thirdly, while all the time we emphasize our rights, we do not lay a corresponding stress on our responsibilities. It is true that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. But it is true, in even a deeper sense, that eternal responsibility is also part of the price of liberty. Excessive authority, without liberty, is intolerable; but excessive liberty, without authority and without responsibility, soon becomes equally intolerable. De Tocqueville made the profound observation that liberty cannot stand alone but must be paired with a companion virtue : liberty and morality; liberty and law; liberty and justice; liberty and the common good; liberty and civic responsibility.
If I were asked to mention the greatest drawback of the administration of justice in India today. I would say that it is Delay. There are inordinate delays in the disposal of cases. We, Indians, have some fine qualities, but a sense of the value of time is not one of them. Perhaps there are historical reasons for our relaxed attitude to time. Ancient India had evolved the concepts of eternity and infinity. So what does it matter if thirty years are wasted in a litigation against the backdrop of eternity. Since we live in eternity, the waste of decades is of no significance. Further, we believe in reincarnation. What does it matter if you waste this life? You have many more lives in which to make good.
The fault is mainly of the legal profession. Adjournments are asked for on the most flimsy grounds. If the judge does not readily grant adjournments, he becomes unpopular. I think it is the duty of the legal profession to make sure that it co-operates with the judiciary in ensuring that justice is administered speedily and expeditiously. This is the one duty of which the legal profession is totally oblivious.
What are the ways in which the problem can be even partially tackled?
Firstly, we must educate our lawyers better. We produce ethical illiterates in our law colleges, who have no notion of what public good is. In India the number of advocates today is approximately six lakhs. We have the second highest number of lawyers in the world, the first being the United States of America which has over eight lakh legal practitioners. These large numbers result in a lot of lawyer-stimulated litigation in the two countries.
Secondly, we must improve the quality of public administration which is today at an all-time low. In the last fifty years India was perhaps never governed so badly as it is governed today. We have too much government and too little administration; too many civil servants and too little civil service; too many controls and too little welfare; too many laws and too little justice.
Thirdly, the citizenry must be better educated to evolve a higher standard of public character. Ancient Indian culture must be taught in schools and colleges. The synergic effect of the different cultures, the amalgam of which is called Indian culture, is bound to prove of great ethical value. Will Durant said that just as continuity of memory is necessary for the sanity of an individual, continuity of the nation’s traditions and culture is necessary for the sanity of the nation.
[Source: Souvenir, Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa, Mumbai, State Lawyers Conference at Solapur on 8th and 29th March, 1997]