It is but an equally meaningful way of celebrating the reaching of a certain milestone by aspiring for improvement as it is to rejoice over what already has been achieved. Therefore, as we commemorate the completion of a hundred years of the establishment of the High Court’s Circuit Bench, we must also equally devote ourselves to consider the struggles and mistakes that have taught us valuable lessons during the bygone century and tread forward with the courage to do what is right and better. As a very small cog in the wheel of justice I feel enormously privileged to be able to put my thoughts before you. You are all wise and experienced. You know what is right and you can tell the wrong from it. I don’t intend to preach what is already a matter of concern and within everyone’s cognizance. I only humbly wish to reach out to everyone obligated to ensure justice is effectively delivered and humbly remind that the vows we implicitly took when we became a part of this sacred system carried an underlying spirit which was that no matter how far the goal and how arduous the road thereto maybe we shall strive to reach it. The reality of real and timely justice and the common man’s unsullied belief in it is that goal.
Today, it is not hard to concede that justice is a problem in our country when millions of our countrymen fanatically harbor a distrust against it. The only way to replace that cynicism with faith is by working even harder than we already are, committing ourselves with an even increased sense of zeal to overcome the gaps that separate justice in paper and justice in real world.
Law is the finest form of embodiment of rules, norms and principles that must be followed by all in the social and economic life at the minimum. It is therefore the basis for societal wisdom. In fact it is the very cause why any nation will not descend into anarchy. But the reason why it should be able to succeed in achieving that end is because of the sense of justice it assures the common man. Obviously the realization of that assurance lies in the hands of the persons who partake in the process of delivering justice. Right from the learned members of the Bar and the Bench to the Group - D staff working for a judicial office, it is their combined sincerity that ensures dispensation of real and timely justice to the ones who seek it.
The spirited role which the members of Bar have played in protecting and upholding the rule of law and protecting the society from chaos is writ large in history. Ofcourse, the Bench must jointly shoulder that responsibility by discharging its duties with honour and honesty. Let us have no doubt that we are all here to espouse the same cause and that makes us nothing different than partners in the justice delivery system of this country. The nature of our work bestows on each of us the status of citizens engaged in rendering “public service”. Consequentially therefore we are all accountable to the people of this country for our actions and inactions be it a lawyer or a judge.
It is my sincere belief that by having chosen the study and profession of law, we have chosen to take on a responsibility above and apart from the rest of society. We have accepted higher obligations, standards, and principles. We have taken upon us to be defenders of the Constitution, the guardians of human liberty, the advocates of just causes, no matter how unpopular, the protectors of the powerless, and the wise counselors of our society. We have undertaken responsibility for guarding humanity from going to ruins. Howsoever fanciful it may sound, in our hands rests the key to endurance of the sacred ideals of our democracy, the cherished freedom of humanity and precious rights of the weak and the underprivileged. As high sounding this may appear, these sacred duties form part of our routine performance.
We are armed with information and knowledge of laws, regulations, and processes – the how’s and why’s of our legal history. Such knowledge puts us at a distinctively advantageous position than other professionals. However this advantage is an onerous one since it correspondingly puts on us an obligation to use it wisely for the benefit of the common man and to do meaningful work for the greater good of our fellow citizens.
If I am not mistaken, today, the greatest expectation from us is timely resolution of litigation. It is a legitimate expectation of every litigant that he should get prompt justice. It is the legitimate expectation of every person taking recourse to the judicial process that he would not be burdened with unnecessary expense. The litigants trust in the advice of the learned advocates. This is because the society is aware that the legal fraternity represents its most informed section. It is aware of the role the members of this section have played in shaping our democracy. Infact, in any democratic society, the role of lawyers has always been very defining. Naturally therefore, the common man nurtures an expectation from the learned members of this noble profession that they will zealously perform their role as guardians of a free and just society. After all, in any social order, they are the learned members of the Bar and the Bench who would pursue the matters of excesses. Therefore the common man looks at them with hope that they shall guide the progress of a modern and fair civilization by cohering and acting together as a task-oriented, professionally responsible stratum of the population.
I am aware of how the justice delivery system in India carries an arduous weight on its back. The haunting malaise of inordinate delays seems to have become more and more acute with time. This has resulted in justice eluding a large section of the public. Therefore the legal fraternity must objectively and diligently provide inexpensive legal aid and advice, where required. The wheels of justice must never be grounded to a halt for any litigant because of his social or economic disability. If the system is to redeem its promise, it has to deliver on this assurance. This is where the role of Bar is extremely crucial.
It is time the intellectual community of lawyers came up with its own agenda of reforms, particularly focused on the subject of expediting justice by embracing ADR techniques. The efficacy of these techniques has been successfully tested, in advanced countries. I would urge the honourable members of the Bar to come forward and cooperate with the judicial administration in this venture.
My efforts would be incomplete without addressing the issue of strikes and cease-works by lawyers. It has already been the subject matter of many debates and discussions but unfortunately to no noticeable benefit of the litigants at large. For every incidence of strike, hundreds of despair driven litigants lose their day in Court. Let us not forget that they have already come to us as last resort. Imagine the helplessness of a man whose cry for justice is stifled by the very community he has chosen to represent his cause. I’m certain if the learned community of lawyers search their soul they would not find it hard to appreciate that holding strikes are simply not becoming of a enlightened class as theirs. We will be the history of our nation’s tomorrow; a time when the younger generation would hold the citadel of the legal system. For that sake let us ensure that we are not remembered as a generation which obstructed and hindered our own progress and brought down the credibility of our own system. How can we ever think of fulfilling society’s aspirations in terms of getting real justice if we do not devise a method to express our concerns without resorting to strikes? I mean if the fraternity of lawyers - who boast of a history of having overturned and brought down bad laws, arbitrary decisions and unjustness by utilizing their access to Courts - resort to strikes, then there is no way we can expect the common man to have any respect for the legal system. And it won’t be just the system for which respect will erode; deference would also vanish for every single entity associated with that system. Consequentially the thread of law and justice binding the society together shall fall apart.
Today, the crisis of confidence in human institutions has come to the forefront. The deficiency of every institution in tackling the growing and complicated social problems has become a common feature and has posed a challenge for every institution and the justice delivery system is no exception. The Bar and the Bench must meet this challenge with unity. When the viability of the system gets into disrepute and it becomes less and less useful to the community, its purpose can be salvaged by restoring its credibility. This is exactly the point where the Bar and the Bench will have to step in and play a leading role in reviving the trust in the justice delivery system. This is by no means an ordinary role. Because if we, as legal professionals, do not strive together to guard the treasured democratic ideals and institutions of our nation then there will be no one to save our social system from a total collapse and imminent chaos. I am an optimist. And I believe whole heartedly that all of us would live up to the expectations which are nurtured with regard to each one of us.
To many, my words would have sounded rhetorical but I still chose them for the reason that despite the efflux of time and the burden of repetition their motto still remains the key to unlock the greatness that our nation is destined for. Before I part I would choose to reach out to the countless boys and girls, men and women of my generation and the ones to come. I beseech you to not take your duties and jobs for granted no matter howsoever irrelevant you may think it is in the running of our nation. Be role models for your successors, no matter how small or big you perceive your jobs to be. Raise your voice against oppression and injustice, notwithstanding your disconnect from any such incident. If each one of us can inspire honesty and sincerity in others by practicing these virtues ourselves then the dream of a just and fair society would be achieved without any revolution.
When you choose a path of service to the mankind and a life of truthfulness, you may perhaps not immediately get the credit for having chosen such a noble vocation. This might burden your hearts - but remember – many years from now you will not be judged by the degrees or medals or the glittering materials that you may or may not own, but you will be judged by what you did for mankind.
Something within me tells me that a generation of new ideas and talent is about to change the world. We constitute that generation. I am therefore sure that you will bring about marvelous changes all around. Do so with pride and dignity while ensuring equal opportunity and dignity for all. Listen to your conscience. I believe firmly that no matter how much disenchantment might pervade our minds regarding the state of our nation, there is enough goodness and righteousness around us and if we collectively assert our conscience then the day we dream of, the country that we dream of is not far from becoming a reality. I don't have the slightest of doubt that while you assert what is right, you will perhaps face stiff opposition. A surprisingly large number of people may stand against you. Remember then, the words of the Mahatma, assuring us that in matters of conscience, one need not heed majority opinion. Go ahead. Do what you feel in your heart is right. You will enrich the soul of our nation. Because each one of us is a breathing part of that soul.
*(Written in commemoration of a glorious hundred years of establishment of the circuit Bench of Patna High Court at Cuttack.)