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Sorry State of Law and Justice
Date of Review: 
Published Work: 
Khushwant Singh
The Hindustan Times

'There were two reasons why after four years study and seven years of practice I gave up the law. One was that I would not make a living out of it; the second, I realised soon enough that it had very little to do with justice. I told myself, 'Man, you have only one life to live,' and asked myself, 'Do you want to waste it making a living out of other peoples quarrels?' And the seven years I practiced in the lower and the High Court of Lahore
I was exposed to touts who fooled clients about my ability to win every case and took hefty cuts for doing so. Thereafter it was bribing court clerks, process servers and bailiffs. Many times my clients were able to pass money to magistrates, subordinate judges and even Sessions Judges and I was able to get them bail and often acquittals.

‘Far too often the guilty went free, the innocent went to the gallows. This was the state of affairs during British rule. Since independence they have got much worse: more bribery, more corruption, more delays in disposal of cases(arrears stand at the figure of ten million), thousands of innocent people languish in prisons without being brought to trial and telling lies is more common than telling the truth. What makes the law and justice scenario very gloomy is that no one knows what to do about it, many learned theses, many pious pronouncements by eminent jurists. No follow up, no improvement.

Our impotence in dealing with the problem was well illustrated in the case of Hussainara Khatoon versus the Home Secretary of the Government of Bihar decided by the Supreme Court in 1978. It came to light there were thousands of men and women who had spent longer years in Bihar jails waiting for their cases to be heard than the years they would have spent behind bars after being convicted. What was ironic about this case was that Chief Justice P N Bhagwati who waxes eloquent in miscarriages of justice in India was not over concerned by the fact that it took the Supreme Court 15 years to pronounce judgement after the case had been admitted for hearing.

Equally amazing was the case of Prem Chand Paniwala who spent years giving false evidence in cases whenever the police wanted him to do so. He prospered: from selling paanee he was able to buy houses and set up fruit juice stalls. At last he refused to continue perjuirng himself. Justice Krishna Iyer observed: 'On the factual situation we have no doubt that the petitioner who has given particulars of a large number of cases where he has been cited as witness is speaking the truth, even assuming that 3000 cases may be an exaggeration.' Passing severe strictures against the police department, the learned judge urged the State to issue appropriate orders to the police department to prevent such abuse of the judicial process.

I got this material from a most readable book written by Rajesh Talwar who has taught law, written on it and practiced it for many years. It deserves to be widely read.'

The state of the Indian judicial system