I am extremely happy to be amidst all of you today. Meeting the younger generation is always a pleasure for me. It fills me with new energy, optimism ....and new ideas.
Since you all are studying law, let me remind you that most of our prominent freedom fighters were lawyers- Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Rajaji ... the list goes on. It would not be wrong to say that their deep understanding of law helped them see through the disempowered condition of Indian masses under colonial rule. They realised that Indian subjects were not being treated at par with their white counterparts. It was this deep understanding of equal human rights that propelled Gandhi ji to demand a seat in first class compartment in a train in South Africa. He was denied this right and pushed off the train and that is how ‘Satyagraha’ was born.
Indian constitution is a vast document – bigger than any other constitution in the world. This detailed document is again a testimony to the fact that a many of those who drafted it were decorated lawyers of their times. It is a tribute to their vision and farsightedness that India is a vibrant democracy today.
I feel these examples are sufficient to highlight the role that a lawyer can play, rather should play in guiding and shaping the society. As lawyers, you will be important stakeholders in ensuring that people have access to justice. It is very important that justice reaches the last man as it forms the basis of a stable and prosperous society. Sense of injustice often leads to alienation.
That is why my firm belief is that the judicial processes must become more people-friendly. The law enforcement machinery and the justice dispensing structures must be accessible, credible, equitable and transparently even-handed. There is a lot of ground we have to cover in this regard.
The Chief Justice of India has recently talked about heavy pendency of cases in various courts. Apparently, there are nearly 60,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court and nearly 44 lakh cases in the High Courts. We need to take action to reduce this heavy pendency. Justice delayed, as is often said, is justice denied.
We also need to promote ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) mechanisms. These are generally faster and less expensive than going to courts and can reduce pendency of cases. Also, there are plans to make India the hub of international arbitration. This is quite doable as we have the right kind of human resource and expertise for this. The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Act, 2019 is the right step in this direction.
Coming to the issue of reforms in legal education India, we do have a small number of outstanding law schools, but they generally remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of mediocrity. This makes it imperative to reform legal education and improve its scope.
Law education during the British days was aimed at creating lawyers who could help the lower courts and high courts in the administration of justice. Now, the lawyers have to play the role of change agents or social engineers addressing the socio-economic under currents and conflicts. They have to address a variety of new crimes triggered by the technological advancements and liberalization. New types of cases like anti-dumping, intellectual property violations relating to patents, trademark etc need a holistic knowledge of economics of pricing, market conditions, how economic injury is inflicted by cheap imports into the host country, subsidy elements received by the exporters in other countries to undersell products in the importing countries etc. Legal education has to be alive to these problems to address the changing roles of a legal practitioner.
To address these issues, we need to make legal education holistic in nature. In the present world, a lawyer has to handle cases of various nature and implications. For instance, cyber laws and intellectual property violations need a greater understanding of the technology, international laws, trade laws and a number of new areas and legislations. The introduction of five year integrated courses, to some extent, has addressed these issues, but I believe not adequately. It is not merely a base level knowledge that is required for handling such cases in a globalized world. There are many multinational corporations operating in our country. Our law graduates should have a good grasp of laws in other countries and be able to weigh the pros and cons in an analytical manner.
Also, an area that has received scant attention in India is the Law of Torts. Law of Torts protects people who become victims of negligence by another party. In many developed countries like the US, it is an important branch of law. All of us are aware of how pharmaceutical and tobacco companies have to part with huge damages if negligence is proved in the court of law. May be the time has come for us to invoke such liabilities in Indian context as well to protect the genuine interest of consumers.
In the end, I come to the issue of ethics in legal profession. We have seen many people complaining of unfair practices by some members of legal fraternity. This affects the image of legal profession as a whole. I call upon all of you to set the highest standards of professionalism and personal integrity in your life and become role models for others. I hope that as lawyers your heart will remain filled with empathy for weaker sections of society and you’ll do your bit to help them.
Wishing you all the best for your future endeavours.