Uploaded on October 8, 2021
Indianising, Decolonising, and Streamlining the Justice Delivery System: A Collaborative Quest of the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary
Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam
“The law is meant to be my servant, not my master, my torturer and my murderer.” - James Baldwin.
The trepidation about approaching the courts for justice is reflective of the sorry state of affairs of our country. A democratic state grants its people the assurance of equality, justice, liberty, and fraternity, the failure of which leads to discontentment and despondency not only in the constitutional rights and guarantees but also the three organs of the state- the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary. Pointing to the lack of accessibility of justice delivery for ordinary people, CJI Ramana called for revisiting the interpretations of the laws made in the colonial time as well as focussing on simplifying the laws; thus, "Indianisation" of the laws to make it more accessible to the mass.
India boasts about the heterogeneity of our society – the diversity of language, culture, religion, practices – which makes it diverse and incredible. Consequently, we are blessed with umpteen languages and dialects. However, it creates a barrier in seeking judicial intervention, mostly for the rural population of India. Further, the procedures and methods involved in justice delivery are tedious, both financially and physically. The justice system of India needs a revamp to adapt to the changes of the present times, demanding more transparency, accessibility, and effectiveness.
Another hindrance in the justice delivery system is the lack of financial assistance required in the lengthy procedural judgments. It ultimately divides the population into two- the privileged and the underprivileged. The latter one constitutes people from low-caste, low socio-economic strata, and religious minorities. The high cost of litigation and poor quality of free legal services dissuade these people from approaching the courts and hence, they are projected on top in most of the reports on delinquencies and criminal behavior. The prejudices and inequalities of our society get imitated in the representation of people in prison. The NCRB data of 2019 says 1 in 3 people in prison is a Dalit or Adivasi, and more than 1 in 5 undertrials were Muslims. Hence, the constitutional aspiration – equality, justice, liberty, and fraternity for all – would never become a reality if the marginalized are deprived of their rights.
The Supreme Court of India has time and again questioned the constitutional validity of some obsolete laws, such as the Sedition law. The archaic nature of Section 124 (A) has been under scrutiny for a long time, for they could not evolve with the changing time. Therefore, it is high time we get rid of such laws or at least read down the law or bring amendments to accommodate the complexities and nuances of contemporary times. The nature of laws should match with the ground realities of our society.
A few plausible and doable solutions involve a shared responsibility of the three pillars of democracy- executive, legislature, and judiciary. Some of the primary steps to make the courts accessible and approachable include bringing reforms and amendments, analyzing the technicalities, and ensuring effective implementation and application of the laws, which can only be possible by working together with a broader goal of attaining the "constitutional aspirations." The realization that the whole system is built on democratic values, which are people-centric, could help the authorities in the long run. The focus should always lie in conferring a comfortable and reliable justice delivery system for ordinary people to avoid their skepticism when proceeding towards the courts for seeking justice. Besides, the issue of the language barrier for native speakers, which is more apparent in the rural areas where most people's approachability to justice is compromised, could be tackled with the provision of the multi-lingual approach adopted by the courts, essentially at the district levels.
Another pivotal measure is decoding the complexities of the system by creating awareness. Besides, one cannot overlook the concern of the quality of free legal services when discussing the issue of accessibility. The appointed representatives of those who choose free legal services are often indifferent and negligent, which makes the whole procedure challenging and alien for these litigators. There is a need for proper monitoring and review by a dedicated team to look for any loopholes in the system to encourage people to come forward with their trust in the judiciary. Often, due to the lack of openness and transparency in the judicial process, ambiguity in people towards the judiciary is a common phenomenon, even at the cost of forging off their constitutional rights. Hence, the utmost diligence should be made in making the whole process trustworthy and upright.
Additionally, the perpetual backlog of cases also discourages people to seek help, mostly the downtrodden. More often than not, it is always people from the marginalized community who form the majority of undertrials, and unfortunately, some spend decades while awaiting a fair trial. Speeding up the infamous lengthy judiciary process to avoid injustice for innocents could work in favor of making the justice delivery within reach for the ordinary population.
The stark class difference of our society also plays a pivotal role in deciding who gets justice and how promptly. Since our Constitution does not benefit anyone on the basis of class, caste, community, religion, race, gender, etc. so, why should the justice delivery system be biased and favor people from privileged positions? Poverty should never become a hindrance in attaining justice. The country’s social security must at least be capable enough to look out for the marginalized sections and provide them with the facility to understand the justice system and not get overwhelmed with the complexities of the system in time of need. Receptiveness could also be enhanced by assuring that jurists have no political inclination to avoid prejudices against certain communities, caste, religion, etc., in pronouncing any judgment, and their moral and constitutional responsibility should lie in procuring the confidence of the ordinary people in the judiciary. The faith and expectation of people on the judiciary shape the democratic values with more power and unity. Therefore, the quintessence of India’s democracy and the justice delivery system could only be achieved by the collective participation of the stakeholders of the state.