ADDRESS AT THE INAUGURATION OF PLATINUM JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS OF BAR COUNCIL OF WEST BENGAL, KOLKATA
06-12-2006 : Kolkata
Law and its multi-dimensions
"Law and justice must converge"
I am happy to participate in the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of the Bar Council of West Bengal. I greet the Chairman and members of the Bar Council, members of the judiciary, Members of the Bar Association, distinguished legal personalities and guests on this occasion. 75 years work is unique, you have an enriched experience of the pre-independence period as well as independence and post independence period. I congratulate you. You should bring out a book about great advocates who have made the difference to the Judiciary and the Bar in West Bengal. I understand that the Bar Council of West Bengal has provided a forum for professionals in the field of legal education, legal culture and legal atmosphere to get together and discuss their opinions, suggestions and beliefs in a free and frank manner. My greetings to all of you.
India on the march
India with its rich historical and cultural heritage, with its talented human resource and with its well entrenched democratic polity is on a march towards the vision of a developed India by 2020. While it has made significant progress in various areas of development, the challenges before it are also daunting. While on the one hand it has to bring up 220 million people living below poverty line, it has to develop advanced technologies to meet problems of society in every field. It has to deal with all aspects of globalization, to combat the evil of terrorism and ensure the growth of the nation with a human face. The transformation taking place in the country would calls for every discipline to rise to the occasion and support the development process. In the last four years, I have been meeting Indian citizens from all walks of life and I am sure that the multi-dimensions of legal system can play a significant role along with the other organs of democracy to ensure an economically strong, safe and secure India. The legal system as a provider of justice has to be the conscience keeper of citizens in enabling equity, justice and order. This requires multiple dimensions of interfaces in the fields of:- (a) National social awakening (b) leadership with nobility (c) multi-dimensions of justice delivery system (d) and above all to set ethical standards for the entire society.
National Social Awakening
It will be appropriate to have an introspection by all of us about the social awakening needed for the nation. Every civilized society exists not on a day-to-day basis, but lives with a clear perception about its future and the generations to come. Such a situation would presuppose that each individual in such a society would cherish and translate into practice noble ideals of constructive tolerance, positive fellow-feeling and a total commitment to live and let live. Albert Einstein could not have expressed this better when he said: ?Laws alone can?t secure freedom of expression; in order that every man presents his views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population?. In fact, such an attitude, be it that of an individual or a collection of them i.e. society, is the hallmark of civilization and that is what characterizes and differentiates life from sheer existence. Honesty and integrity - both in thought and action, independence and inter-dependence ? in their wholesome and positive manifestations, would distinguish a civilized society in its true sense. It is for each individual to strive to inculcate these eternal values in him or her and that alone would be the surest path and unfailing guarantee for a civilized society and its future.
Leadership with Nobility
The national challenges call for leadership in every walk of life where individuals rise above themselves to fulfill responsibilities. Our Society is going through a unique dynamics where impacts are felt due to the shortage of leadership with nobility. It is said that a nation fails not because of economic progress but because of an increase in decision makers with small minds.
As the dynamic legal system is catching up with societal and technological evolution, the citizens of India look up to this institution with hope as the ultimate protector of human rights and the final resort for dispensation of justice. The unflinching hope the nation cherishes and looks forward to, is a legal system with excellence and impeccable integrity. The legal system is indeed an integrated output of law makers, the Bar Council and the Judiciary. We should do everything to make the legal system succeed.
This casts a very heavy responsibility on all members of the legal system and participating institutions to live up to the expectations reposed in it and to maintain the sacred aura attached to it, unsullied.
Multi-dimensions of Justice delivery system
In this connection I have seen certain positive developments in our society which I would like to discuss.
a. Right to Information Act
Our Parliament has passed the Right to Information Act and it has been in operation for over a year now. A number of citizens have benefited by seeking information on various aspects on Government and Government establishments. Sometimes, the information sought has also led to suggestions for improving the functioning of certain institutions.
The system is in its evolutionary path. For deriving maximum benefit from this Act, active participation of all stakeholders such as political leaders, civil services, judiciary, media, societal transformers and citizens is required. This will also make India a highly participative democracy. Let me discuss the role of mobile legal clinics in taking justice to the door steps of citizens.
b. Mobile Legal Aid and Lok Adalat
I have seen the functioning of the Mobile Legal Aid and Lok Adalats in Gujarat and the Bihar High Courts. I have also found that all Mobile Legal Aid and Lok Adalats in different parts of the States are networked. The number of cases settled in each month is being presented. This provides transparency to villagers and many are coming forward for getting their cases settled. This is one method of taking justice to the doorstep of the rural citizens who constitute 70 percent of the Indian population and a good justice delivery system for rural areas is the need of the hour. I would like to discuss another important societal development of settling disputes through mediation and reconciliation.
Human ingenuity has given birth to various alternative dispute resolution systems complementing traditional time-tested and well-established systems and procedures of courts. The concept of mediation and conciliation is one such creative development in our country. The recent statutory recognition has enabled us to introduce them formally in our Courts.
This is definitely a faster method of dispute resolution compared to conventional court processes. The only thing is that we have to have trained mediators and conciliators, who can see the problem objectively without bias and facilitate affected parties to come to an agreed solution. In my opinion, this system of dispute resolution is definitely a cost effective system for the needy. I am only suggesting that in cases involving parties from rural areas, mediators and conciliators may move to the site of occurrence of the problem and resolve the issue. Mediators must possess the qualities of being a role model in society, with impeccable integrity and ability to persuade and create conviction among the parties. I was happy to find that the Mediation and Conciliation Centre organized by the High Court of Madras has solved number of family disputes which have been pending for a substantial number of years in the last one year. Now, I would like to discuss the topic of cyber crimes.
d. Cyber Crimes
Economic prosperity by 2020 will also mean that many Indians from now will be doing business in the digital world on the web. In this new era, crime, law and justice will be completely different from the present. In the present law, for example, the jurisdiction will correspond to the location where the crime is committed and where the damage occurs ? very often, both being the same location. Whereas, in the digital world, the crime may originate from a strange place even outside our own shores and may damage organizational wealth which will be in the digital form in multiple locations. In the 20th century, a nation?s business transactions and wealth creation were based on transfer of material from one place to another. In the 21st century wealth is created whenever information in the form of electrons is transferred across networks in a borderless world. Our legal system has to build its capacity to define jurisdictions in a way that any crime committed against India or her assets by anyone from anywhere shall be punishable by Indian law. It may be true for other countries also. The Government along with the legal and judicial community should formulate progressive and innovative crime handling and prevention methods for the digital economy which is one of the vital components of a developed nation. Particularly, Advocates and Judges should prepare themselves to meet the challenges of cyber crime. Now let us study laws driven by national priorities.
e. Laws driven by national priorities
Opportunities for rapid industrial and economic growth today co-exist with new problems arising out of trade competition and corporate mergers and take-overs. Many tiny and small sectors of industries and even artisan goods will be facing the forces of modernization in the form of market forces, technologies and other forms of public information system including advertisements. There are major issues of protecting the local and global environment. Let us look at science and technology that has emerged as a strong force during the current period of human history. Basically, science and technology is driven by human curiosity and reasoning and in its best sense aimed at spreading benefits to all people. They are basically universal in outlook. Similarly, laws are meant to protect people, their rights and make them feel secure in society. I think this is the common meeting ground of law, science and technology, people and society. Legal instruments must maximize benefits for our people and nation. Laws must protect indigenous technologies and trade to the extent they impact peoples living and their welfare as well as ensure national interest. The Bar Council has an important role to play in suggesting the formulation of such laws.
All the more it is important now that Indian corporates are transforming into multinationals. We need experts both in the bar and the judiciary who can effectively deal with legal systems of multiple nations and protect the interest of our companies who are carrying out business and trade with these countries. Every nation has its own laws to protect its wealth and knowledge. Of course Advocates are part of the system. Now let me present my thoughts on accountability and transparency required in the justice delivery system.
f. Accountability and transparency
For speedy delivery of justice; judges, lawyers, support staff in Courts and litigants have all got to play a role and they have to become accountable for their actions. For example, it is a good practice to make the number of cases cleared by a particular judge during the year known to the public through the Internet. In the case of lawyers they have to be business like and proceed with the case without seeking undue adjournments. It is normally said that the earning capacity is a function of the number of adjournments a lawyer can get for his client. Is it true? In international cricket we witness that if a player delays the progress of the match, he is penalized. You will appreciate that the judiciary needs fair-play. The Court staff has to work systematically to see that cases are notified on first-cum-first serve basis except in some special category cases. The support staff should be able to translate orders of the judge in its true meaning. I am told that in the Armed Forces the Court Martial proceedings are held continuously and hearing is carried out at least six hours a day on a day-to-day basis. Adjournments are allowed only when the trial is impracticable and adjournment is necessary to meet the end of justice. I am happy that in exceptional cases this procedure is being followed. Members of the legal community can consider this model for implementation in all West Bengal Courts.
Now, I would like to put forward ethical issues arising out of the human genome project which needs the attention of the legal community.
Human genome project ? ethical issues
The functional mapping of each of the 40,000 genes through the Human Genome project indeed will lead to the understanding of every aspect of our life. Proteomic research in characterization of genes is taking shape. It may even lead to tailor-made medical treatment to suit a person?s genetic make up diminishing the problem of unwanted drug side effects. In our traditional holistic healing system, the same medicine is not given to two different individuals having the same disease. Custom built medicine is required looking at the Prakriti of the individual. Further discoveries, may even lead to fine tuning of human evolution. But one of the big concerns is the legal ownership of the human genome. The conflict has to be resolved nationally and internationally. The typical questions that come to our mind are the following:- Who is the owner of the results of the human genome projects and the results of proteomics research? Who should have access to personal genetic information and how will it be used? Who owns and controls genetic information? How will genetic tests be evaluated and regulated for accuracy, reliability, and utility? Should parents have the right to have their minor children tested for adult-onset diseases? Are genetic tests reliable and interpretable by the medical community? How do we as a society balance current scientific limitations and social risk with long-term benefits? A national programme on proteomics of the Indian population should be initiated with multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary participation as a consortium. This programme will lead to pharma research and wealth generation. At the same time bio-ethical legal and social issues should be studied as part of this programme. The legal community assembled here may like to study this problem and come up with a legal framework for the country.
Presently, India is going through a phenomenon of knowledge society influencing the information society, the industrial society and the agricultural society through innovation and value addition. Finally, by the year 2020, India will become an economically developed nation. Economically developed status alone has not brought happy societal life in real sense in many countries. That means India while working on mission mode for economic development should also build the values based on our civilizational heritage in the evolution of our society.
I believe that the Bar Council of West Bengal has an important role in bringing into being in the state a strong, dissuasive ?product liability? tort, and legislation covering service deficiency on professional malpractice, which laws will enable crippling damages to be claimed by adversely affected parties. I would urge the Bar Council of West Bengal to establish a standing group which will address on a regular and on-going basis matters relating to law and technology?
Perhaps what we are today, perhaps what we enjoy today, is almost entirely due to glorious past which very few nations in the present day world can be proud of. But then, it is one thing to have such a past and pride yourself about it; but it is entirely another to live up to it and to enrich it further so that posterity will have every reason and justification to be proud of us as we are of our past. What is required now is a constant, positive push to inculcate in each one of us the ideals that are essential for building up a brilliant future that would truly be a logical extension of the brilliant past.
With these words, let me inaugurate the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of Bar Council of West Bengal. My best wishes to all the members of the Bar Council of West Bengal in their mission of facilitating speedy justice with nobility to all the citizens of West Bengal.
May God bless you.