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Wheels of justice thou shalt not halt

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Atul Goyal
Atul Goyal
Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court. Writing: Between Torture and Fun. Offline is the new luxury.

They say that “the wheels of justice do turn slowly but they grind exceedingly fine” (an age-old proverb). However, the world is sailing in unchartered waters. In times of ‘Corona Pandemic’, people often contemplate and ask ‘when will the world return to its normal days’! Don’t wait for the normal days as they still might well be a mirage on the distant horizon. Assume that abnormal is the new normal. The whole world has come to a halt. People across the world are observing rigid ‘lock-downs’ and even the curfew has been imposed in some states under ‘Section 144’ Cr. P.C. We are undergoing a health emergency.

Long ago, India witnessed another ‘emergency’, a dark age of Indian democracy. ADM Jabalpur vs. Shiv Kant Shukla, the Hon’ble Supreme Court had declared that Article 20 and Article 21 (Right to Life and Liberty) shall also remain suspended during the period of emergency. It was 44th amendment of the Constitution which brought about several changes. Article 359 now provides that even proclamation of emergency would not suspend Article 20 as well as Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 

Although, the Indian government has neither declared ‘The National Emergency’ (under Article 352) nor ‘The Financial Emergency’ (under Article 360), yet there cannot be any denial that we are in a state of ‘Emergency’; a state where the right to move Court to enforce Article 21 stands virtually suspended, is in a state of Emergency. Various Courts across the country have adopted new temporary rules to dispense justice with the aid of technological advancements. The Courts have permitted filing of cases with some relaxations, for example, non-attestation of affidavits of litigants, non-affixation of court-fee and due acceptance of scanned documents including the ‘Power of Attorney’ (Vakalatnama). Furthermore, the urgent matters are being permitted to be argued via ‘social media platforms’, for instance, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, etc. Courts across the nation including the Hon’ble Supreme Court are taking matters of ‘urgent nature’ on a daily basis through the medium of ‘video-conferencing’.

In fact, for the upcoming 28.04.2020, more than 50 matters are already listed in the ‘Daily Cause List’ to be taken up simultaneously by different benches of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Similarly, several Hon’ble High Courts across the country are taking plentiful matters on a daily basis. The Hon’ble Rajasthan High Court had been taking up more than 100 matters on a daily basis. Similarly, Hon’ble Delhi High Court has been taking up 50 matters on an average. On the other hand, the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court has been taking up only five or six matters in a day. There have been days when not even a single matter was deemed fit to be taken up. The highest number of matters listed in a single day before the Punjab and Haryana High Court are maximum 8 in number, so far i.e. on 15.04.2020. On 31.03.2020, 07.04.2020, 09.04.2020 and 22.04.2020 onlysingle matter, each day, was listed before the Hon’ble bench of a High Court which has territorial jurisdiction over two states and a Union Territory.

The Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court has devised a mechanism wherein a list of dates and events along-with grounds of urgency is supposed to be submitted via an e-mail to the Ld. Registrar during a designated time period and thereafter, a list of matters is published wherein the mentioning has been allowed. However, all others are receiving a single line response viz your request has been rejected by the Hon’ble Bench.” In fact, the Hon’ble Court has even rejected anticipatory bails and regular bails to be listed. 

Despite having means and measures, there appears to be no uniformity in taking up the matters. In-fact what is urgent and what is not, is left upon the sole discretion of the Court Registrar. Many lawyers, jurists, commissions and even Courts at times have argued for bail reforms. At such occasions, there is a necessity to formulate a policy to ensure that the bail matters be taken up on a regular basis to avoid further chaos in legal pursuits since such matters are not at all insignificant. The vague categorisation of “Urgent Matters” is doing more harm than benefit.The fresh listing of Arnab Goswami’s matter before the Hon’ble Supreme Court has added fuel to the fire. Our portion has become smaller and smaller, as the elite eat at the grandest table of the all.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Renu and others versus District and Session Judge, Tis Hazari and another, while considering the powers of the Hon’ble Chief Justice under Article 229 of the Constitution of India for the purpose of framing rules, had quoted the words of English jurist, Henry de Bracton: “The King is under no man but under God and the Law”. No one is above law. The dictum – “Be you ever so high, the law is above you” is applicable to all, irrespective of his status, religion, caste, creed, sex or culture. The Constitution is the supreme law. All the institutions, be it legislature, executive or judiciary, being created under the Constitution, cannot ignore it.” 

The exercise of powers by an authority cannot be unguided or unbridled. The system of checks and balances is what a democracy is all about and the judiciary plays the most important and proactive role in this system. The Hon’ble Court must consider to at-least take up all anticipatory bails, regular bails, habeas corpus matters. Golden are the words of Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The Executive has already taken away man’s liberty, now let the Judiciary not lose him his right to be heard.

What we do today, will define tomorrow. The wheels of justice are already turning slow, let them not halt.

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Atul Goyal
Atul Goyal
Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court. Writing: Between Torture and Fun. Offline is the new luxury.
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