When I passed the examination for the degree of Bachelor of Laws and obtained a First Division from the University of Allahabad in the year 1954, the soothsayers predicted that I would be a judge of the High Court or a successful lawyer in due course of time. Nothing of that sort happened. The astrologer was wrong. Our hopes were dashed when I became a lawyer without a brief in a district court. My gift of the gab helped me in arguing a case or two that I got from our native village where the litigants were in penury and could not pay a reasonable fee to an established lawyer. Notwithstanding my logical legal arguments and acquittal of the accused in an Arms Act case, my hopes of a flooded flow of new legal briefs were belied. I had no touts to go round singing my praise and hooking new clients. I learnt a lesson: honesty is not always the best policy, certainly not in the domain of law.
BIG FISH AND SMALL FISH
The courts of law in India follow the British jurisprudence and administration of justice is done exactly as it is done in the United Kingdom. In that country the language of the court is English and so is the case with the litigants. On the contrary, in India while the language of courts is, by and large, English, that of the litigants it is their mother tongue which is not English. The litigants do not follow a word of what is said by the lawyers or the judge and they depend solely on the briefing done by the clerk of the counsel at the end of the day. The higher you go in judiciary, the more removed you are from the litigating people. Generally speaking, the judges in their judgements delivered in the Indian courts quote observations of learned legal luminaries from the UK or USA that do not have much in common with the situation obtaining in India. It is said that there may be miscarriage of justice because of this communication gap between the bench and the bar on one side and our hapless litigants on the other side. It is the poor people who suffer. The people find no remedy for this perennial malady of communication gap in legal language and commoner’s rustic language.
Carrying the above point forward, one finds that the rich who engage high profile counsels on paying a fabulous amount as a legal fee go scot free whatever the charge against them might have been. It is the poor who becomes voiceless because his counsel is not as articulate as the rich man’s is. Many a time one finds that the big fish goes unpunished despite being a criminal in the eye of law and it is the small fish that gets caught despite its innocence or for committing a relatively minor crime. In such cases one finds a travesty of truth that may result in miscarriage of justice. This has been happening since the time when the Anglo-Roman jurisprudence was introduced in India by the East India Company to administer justice. One comes across a case here or a case there when an individual is found guilty of murder of a person who is actually alive and kicking. Collusion of the police with criminals plays a major role in derailing justice.
EQUALITY BEFORE LAW
I had learnt by heart an axiom of jurisprudence in my law class that I recall time and again.
“However high you may ever be, the Law is above you”.
It saddens me to see that this high principle is observed more in breach than any other law of the land. The high and the mighty announce from house tops that they have good connections in the higher echelons of the society and no one dares lay his hand on the mighty wrong doer. The politicians perhaps are the worst law breakers because they have the wherewithal to get away with it. I must hasten to add that with the advent of the electronic media, the cases that are covered by reporters in depth are per force being dealt with as per law. It is the media pressure that sees the sons of politicians, who infringe laws, behind bars. Such cases are indeed few and far between. With the advent of the Right to Information Act in 2005, the bureaucracy and a few law enforcing agencies go about doing their jobs sincerely. If information is asked for under RTI, the honest officials would have nothing to fear.
It must be stated that the principle of equality before law is flouted flagrantly now more than ever before. Perhaps the higher judiciary is not strong enough to ensure that there is equality before law.
Let us take judges of the higher judiciary. Many of them, including sitting judges of the apex court are reluctant to disclose their assets and sources of income. Further, there have been accusations by eminent jurists that some judges of the higher judiciary, including a chief justice or two, have amassed wealth and immoveable property disproportionate to their known sources of income. There is corruption in the higher judiciary too but the big fish goes unpunished. The case of Justice Dinakaran, Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, for buying a lot of land at throw away price, has been hanging fire for a long time. The decision of the Chief Justice of India is still awaited in the matter. Another glaring example is that of Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court against whom the impeachment proceedings were started for corruption but he survived because of his political connections. Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court was being impeached and the motion had been passed by the Rajya Sabha, But before it could be debated and passed by the Lok Sabha, Justice Soumitra Sen resigned and his resignation was accepted by President Of India The Lok Sabha had no option but to drop the impeachment proceedings. Thus in independent India, no judge of a High Court or the Supreme Court has been impeached so far.
On the other hand many a time a petty clerk is sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for varying periods for accepting illegal gratification of a princely sum of five rupees. Is it equality before law? Both the lawmakers and the interpreters of law must think hard on the issue and come up with a rational solution lest the society erupts in a socio-legal upheaval.
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