It is not milord for heaven’s sake
As a kid when I heard the much revered ‘Milord’ again and again in the 90s courtroom dramas, I genuinely believed that it probably means something not withstanding how odd it sounded indeed. Two decades later as a grownup I now know that it is nothing but a colloquial distorted version of the phrase “My lord” but Bollywood is yet to grow up as movies continue to be liberally peppered with the misnomer. I wish the rising number of female judges at all levels had met with a better fate but many of they are still unabashedly addressed as “Judge Sahib”. It reminds me of the critically acclaimed movie Subah of the 80s about women emancipation, in which ironically the female chairperson of a women’s reformatory home refers to herself as the chairman repeatedly. I understand that gender neutral language had probably still not gained the kind of momentum it has now but what is troublesome is that the trend set by the movies back then is being followed even now.
You don’t get to clap as and when you feel like it
It’s not too hard to recall courtrooms packed with people in Hindi cinema. A friend once remarked that he always wondered about these people who happened to be jobless enough to sit through the court entire proceeding without being associated with the matter at hand. It usually reminded me of the drill, we went through as first year students at law school, during which we would be forced by the administration to attend conferences in hordes just to make the conference hall look full to its capacity! Rest of the students were harder to manipulate with each passing year and would be willing to squander away their precious time only in exchange for attendance worth a few classes. I believe they are there to provide comic relief as they laugh and clap gleefully on cue just like audience at a theater while the judge sahib goes all, “Order! Order!” with his gravel. The directors don’t seem to be satisfied enough with witnesses shouting, “Ye jhooth hai, milord,” from their respective seats. None of these theatrics accompanying a reel courtroom take place in the real one. I still remember the stern warning a senior once gave the class while teaching the basics of mooting, when almost all of us burst into squeals of laughter. Considering how such behavior was received even during a mock court trial, one can just imagine the gravity of such frivolity in a real courtroom.
English is the official lingua franca of the Supreme Court and the majority of High Courts as per Article 348 of the Constitution. However, Article 348 (2) states that the governor of a state, with the consent of the President, can allow the use of the local language in the High Court which has been resorted to by a handful of states. Lower courts of the country function in the regional language of the state they are located it which on one hand makes them easily accessible for the locals and doubly hard for migrants to mitigate through legal proceedings. While passionate arguments are made against the usage of English making the apex court an elite forum, with the same fervor we need to look at how adopting local languages at High Courts will impact inter-state migration in search of better jobs and educational opportunities. On one hand India proudly claims to be at the heart of globalization and on the other hand a section of it seeks to continue with imposing one regional language over another community of people who dared to move other states. In a country linguistically as diverse as India, only English can be used for connecting dots in order to give each local language the respect it deserved. In a situation such as this, availing Article 348(2) would ultimately amount to taking one step forward and taking two step forwards for any state, if one cares to look at the larger picture.
You must be used to seeing sari and kurta clad female lawyers walking across the court complex busily onscreen. Trousers have a made a recent appearance at the scene. If you have often found yourself wondering whether formal skirts can be worn to courts, on coming across fashionable dressed women coming out of swanky law firms based in Mumbai while visiting the city from Delhi where people openly stare at bare legs, you are definitely not the only one. About a couple of years back, Justice Indu Malhotra while addressing female lawyers at the ladies bar room at the apex court, famously pointed out that as per the Bar Council of India Rules, skirts actually form a part of acceptable courtroom attire. I sincerely hope that someday formal skirts gain the kind of wide acceptance trousers have now received since they first made an appearance as part of female clothing about a century back, not only in the legal profession but across all sectors PAN India.
The defense lawyer cannot be shamed by virtue of just being that
No matter how heinous a crime, is someone accused of, the person is constitutionally entitled to legal representation and is presumed to be innocent till guilty and media houses covering any sort of trial usually conveniently forget that in favor of political mileage and TRP. A large section of the society holds defense lawyers in disdain not because of any unethical practice they indulge in per se but because they chose to represent the accused in the first place. Raja ki Ayegi Baraat, an offering of the melodramatic 90s, in a bid to support the cause of women empowerment went to the extent of making a mockery out of rape trial. The female protagonist who also happened to have been subjected to the depravity of rape, gets called in for cross examination at a courtroom filled with random people and delivers a lecture to the defense lawyer on being asked uncomfortable questions. In reality a rape trial has to mandatorily be conducted in camera and a defense lawyer cannot be admonished by the victim.
You cannot give surprise to your opponent
Lawyers representing either side have to give each other due notice about the list of evidence and witnesses they intend to produce during the trial, in order to ensure that the opposite party is in a better state to make rebuttal. Procedural law leaves very little room for throwing surprises.
Yeah right! Change of heart lets you go against your own client
As a kid, I had found Kyunki Main Jhooth Nahin Bolta, a reasonably funny movie in which the main lead, a lawyer is compelled to against his own client, the bad guys during a trial as his son has been granted a wish by virtue of which he would not be able to lie ever again. Needless to say, in the end he saves the day and good triumphs over evil. In reality if a lawyer misuses the agency bestowed upon him by the client against him, the client can file complaint against the lawyer for professional misconduct with the Bar Council of India.
You heard it right! A judge giving an unpopular verdict isn’t always corrupt either
Recently I watched the movie, One Day: Justice Delivered which revolves around a retired judge turned vigilant out to punish those he had to acquit earlier due to lack of evidence. In a rather dramatic scene, one of the family members of the deceased victims slaps the judge while asserting rather confidently that he is corrupt as he looks on haplessly. The movie deserves to be reviewed based on various parameters, but one thing it definitely got right is the fact that a bench is indeed bound by precedents laid down by higher courts and rules regarding admissibility of evidence. After all, there is a really thin line between judicial activism and judicial over reach. This brings me to the menace posed by media trial as witnessed in the murder trials that followed the gruesome murders of Jessica Lal and Arushi Talvar that received nationwide attention. The movies based on these two issues have suitably covered it as well. Today, about a decade or so later with the advent of instant messaging app where users can not only consume but forward each other the details about the murder of Sushant Singh Rajput, along with mushrooming of media houses with clear cut political agendas, the poor guy’s death has indeed been turned into a spectacle from which everyone seems to be trying to gain something. Trial by the public over social media has added another dimension to the threat posed by media trial. In this digital space, a judge is condemned for a verdict as swiftly as conclusions are drawn regarding who is the culprit. By the way, are you aware of the fact that the Press Council of India Norms explicitly consist of advisory guidelines against conducting media trial and Press Council of India has recently issued warning to adhere to journalistic norms regarding the coverage of investigation in the mysterious death of Sushant Singh Rajput? I know a medical school graduate personally, who gets annoyed when exposed to onscreen fallacies in terms of human body and medicine and people who make statements that can’t be backed by scientific evidence. However, at the same time she is convinced beyond doubt about the evil maneuver of Rhea Chakraborty. While denouncing the judicial system passionately for corruption, people seldom remember that even a judge at the lower most court of the country, has to dedicate to 5-6 years at a law school and then clear the entrance exam for state judicial services followed by rigorous training at respective state judicial academies. They are governed by precedents laid down by higher courts and rules regarding admissibility of evidence. They have very little power to go beyond that. The large scale systematic change the general public hopes for can only be brought through legislative policies and enactment of laws which are a result of empirical research conducted at the ground level to assess the impact of previously existing laws. You can definitely have a look at the state of empirical research in the field on law in this country. It actually forms a miniscule proportion of research that is conducted nationwide. What is truly interesting is the fact that you would rarely come across the civil society raising questions regarding this issue let alone the aam janta. That’s because these sections of the society sleep peacefully at night after having proudly been part of dharnas at the Jantar Mantar and protest marches at India Gate that demanded changes in the existing law, which of course is neither based on in depth study of law at hand nor research at the ground level. The right to criticize the judiciary definitely forms the bedrock of any democracy, but is it too much to ask for the criticism to be backed by legal reasoning? By all means you can be the next Prashant Bhushan when it comes to pointing out corruption in the higher judicial system but in case you do so without any evidence and happen to be part of the aam janta, you would probably face a defamation suit and definitely would not have it as easy as he did.
Have you ever wondered, how long does a case usually drag on for?
Most movies are generally ambiguous about, the time duration within which a judgment has been passed by the lower court. In the movie, Nayak the male protagonist while pointing to the sluggish pace at which the judiciary functions refers to the case of a rape victim who had passed away by the time, the matter came up for hearing. In reality, cases actually drag on for years at the lower court and by the time it gets disposed off by the apex court in case an appeal is filed, generally more than a decade has already passed. The biggest victims; under trial prisoners languish in jails for an eternity before their fate is decided.