Saturday, May 18, 2024

Is it Court of Law or Court of Justice?

Prof Madabhushi Sridhar

It was a great experience with Sadguru Sivananda Murty Garu, in 2010, at Warangal, Mulugu Road’s Saptadham built by Guru where he organized a cultural meet. Prof Y Sudershan Rao, Professor of History, and (former chairperson ICRH) said that “a group of citizens experienced in various fields, like education, administration, culture, law, judiciary etc., propose to hold seminars on various topics that concern the citizens in today’s society in our country and to bring out  the collection of learned papers as a Souvenir in dedication to our beloved Guruji, Sadguru Sivananda Murty garu who is keenly interested in the welfare of our society rendering yeoman service to humanity in various ways, on the auspicious eve of His turning 82 in year 2010. Prof Rao, Prof Mallikarjun, Prof Suprasanna (who edited my article), from Kakatiya University, were part  the organisation which arranged this meeting. I thought it was a great opportunity to be present and hear Sadguru.

It was a three-day seminar, in which I could be present on last day, for which Sadguru adjusted time. Sri Anugraha Narayan Tiwari, (former Collector of Warangal during 1980, whom I invited as Chief Guest in daily newspaper Warangal Vani) was in 2010, was Central information Commission, who later became Chief Information Commissioner. After listening to Tiwary, I was lucky to hear Sadguru. I tried to explain whether in India “is it Court of Law or Court of Justice?”

My points of speech before Sadguru

The Courts of justice…’ it sounds well to hear that we have some centres where we can get justice. It was so originally called. Later the name changed to ‘courts of evidence’. Now we know that all of us call them ‘courts of law’. What a progress!

One of the ‘stringent procedural rule’ named ‘locus standi’ says that only aggrieved person should knock the doors of justice. Nothing is wrong in this principle. But in India, where people do not know that they have some rights and those rights were being eaten away by others who are politically powerful, rich, dishonest etc., how can they go to courts? Most of the crimes are unreported and most of the people reconcile that it was their fate or bad luck that they suffered. In many other cases, victims are not there to report or fight for justice. Who will fight for them?

If victim is helpless, it is his next friend or active citizen or a civil society which responds to civic problems or a socially responsible lawyer, who need to seek justice for those helpless. That is why the judicial activism is basically considered citizen activism.

The rule of locus standi have been relaxed and a person acting bonafide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of Public Interest Litigation will alone have a locus standi and can approach the court to wipe out violation of fundamental rights and genuine infraction of statutory provisions, but not for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration (Ashok Kumar Pandey v. State of W. B., (2004) 3 SCC 349).

The PIL has totally transformed the process of justice at least in some fields, with these new characteristics:

1) By creating a new regime of human rights – the right to speedy trial, free legal aid, dignity, means and livelihood, education, housing, medical care, clean environment, right against torture, sexual harassment, solitary confinement, bondage and servitude, exploitation and so on emerge as human rights

2) By democratization of access to justice

3) By fashioning new kinds of relief’s

4) By judicial monitoring of State institutions

5) By devising new techniques of fact-finding.

With these new aspects the nature of PIL was explained that PIL is (a) Remedial in nature
(b) Representative Standing, (c) Citizen standing, and (d) Non-adversarial Litigation, (e) Relaxation of strict rule of Locus Standi, (f) Epistolary jurisdiction: It is also called epistolary jurisprudence because the courts are accepting the post cards or letters as petitions and responding.

The PIL involves 1. Collaborative litigation; and 2. Investigative Litigation.

(i). Ombudsman- The court receives citizen complaints and brings the most important ones to the attention of responsible government officials.

(ii) Forum – The court provides a forum or place to discuss the public issues at length and providing emergency relief through interim orders.

(iii) Mediator – The court comes up with possible compromises.

Media activism and Judicial Activism

If we keep aside the irresponsible reporting and sensationalism of media for a while, we can safely look into some of its positive contributions in seeking justice for the needy. Constructive role of media in judicial activism is proved beyond doubt. The Judicial Activism through PIL basing on the letters of public-spirited persons, and rights sensitive news reporters is the new phenomenon in the last two decades. The intellectual and active civil society, the fifth estate and the responsible media, the fourth estate, could move the Judiciary to activate the Executive to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. When letters disclosing violation of rights reached, the higher courts took note of and send notices to authorities, it is called epistolary jurisprudence. Hurried reporting of news of brazen violation of human rights at the hands of authorities also alerted and activated the judiciary leading to writs and directions to the executive.

This may be called “journalistic jurisprudence”. It is the vibrant media or responsible citizen who wakes up the lazy governments from its slumber. But of late, the democratic governing institutions developed thick skin, pretended sleep and blinked a blind eye at such reports. Stunning seriousness of the news report many a time moved the courts to come to the rescue of the hapless citizen. Another possible way was that if the courts miss out the ‘news article’, active citizens might send clipping with covering note, attracting the attention of the judiciary.

Whether it is blinding of prisoners in Bhagalpur, or issues of child labour in glass factories, or killing of children in sivakasi cracker making units, or selling of a woman in streets, it was media which brought the issue to the notice of the judiciary.

The case of Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar, AIR 1982 SC 1008, exposed the brutalities of the Police, when a news paper report revealed that about 33 suspected criminals were blinded by the police in Bihar by putting the acid into their eyes. Through interim orders S. C. directed the State government to bring the blinded men to Delhi for medical treatment. It also ordered speedy prosecution of the guilty policemen. (A movie ‘Gangaajal’ was made to explaining the gory deeds of those criminals linked with political bosses which evoked sympathy for the police men who were compelled to inflict extra judicial punishments as they were escaping the long arm of law through deficiencies and dishonesty). The court also read right to free legal aid as a fundamental right of every accused. Anil Yadav signalled the growth of social activism and investigative litigation.  If the court depends on the investigation of the newspapers, or its officers such as Registrar or Magistrate, it is investigative litigation.

Indian Express reporter purchased a woman called Kamala in open trafficking market, where she was sold for two or more times and based on this incident he reported about the Trafficking Mafia. It created a lot of sensation, provoked public spirited citizen to write to Supreme Court, while artists made a drama and cinema out of it. While the writers litigated for copyright, Kamala disappeared and courts were helpless. (Indian Express v Jagmohan AIR 1985 Bom 229)

It is an experience to be with Sadguru and Sri A N Tiwari. Later with the blessings of Sadguri, Mr Tiwari become Chief Information Commissioner to adjudicate disputes under Right to Information Act, and after some time in 2013 could meet Tiwari and then who introduced me to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The then, PM appointed me Central Information Commissioner.

Earlier, my father Freedom fighter, founder of Warangal Vani daily and Janadharma weekly M S Acharya, took me on his cycle to meet Sivananda Murthy Sadguru, when he was working as an officer in DIG Police in Warangal. My mother Ranganayakamma and father asked me seek blessing from Sadguru, when I was in school days. Sadguru blessed me for good health and progress.

(10th June is vardhanti of Sadguru Sivananda Murthy)

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.


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