It’s back to school time for lawyers and justice

Lawyers hit the books; judges dust off their legal jargon, and citizens sweat as we embark on the wildest ride of our lives through the untouched jungle of justice!

Ritesh Sharma Jaipur
Ritesh Sharma, Advocate & Social Entrepreneur

Certain dates of history are not only recalled, not merely commemorated because of the event occurring on them, but remembered because of the tectonic shifts they enable. One such day that remained engraved in the history of India was definitely 8th November, 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced demonetisation, which had triggered an economic upheaval across the country. Now, with another important date looming ahead,. Mark the calendars for July 1, 2024, when a sea change will hit the Indian judiciary, as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, or BNS; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, or BNSS; and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam are going to replace the time-tested IPC, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act.

Whosoever, the term ‘char so bees’ has somehow been synonymous with fraudsters and immortalised in us. The courtroom dramas and Hindi cinema will soon turn into a relic of the past. In due time, strong-jawed judges pronouncing ‘daffas’ in stern-eyed classic scenes will be a mere nostalgic memory as the legal lexicon undergoes big change.

“So many things have changed,” laments a veteran lawyer. “Forgery cases used to be second nature—now it’s like someone switched my favourite novel for a new edition with all the pages shuffled.”

The real heroes of this transformation are the lawyers and police—the dynamic duo.

These legal experts, which become the basis of any case, are now bracing an existential crisis. When they could have been enjoying summer vacations, needless to say, owing to another practice handed down from the colonial era, lawyers are busy unraveling the mystical acronyms of BNS, BNSS, and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam. Of course, they are. They are champions of the legal system who can steer through the maze of justice in a relentless pursuit to ensure that the wheels of justice keep rolling—the established laws, the new ones, everything to be mastered with dogged determination.

It means that criminal lawyers are very much like students who, the night before final exams—the most important exams of their careers—are cramming up. Panic sets in as they study crib notes, take online courses, and memorize new statutes. Booklets of the new acts sell out faster than the latest iPhone.

Imagine the seasoned lawyer who could invoke Section 420 with effortless ease getting flustered as he fumbles through the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, trying to refresh his memory if forgery is in Chapter 7 or 17, or it even exists and is defined as it used to be for over a century. Judges too are refreshing their legal knowledge to avoid conflating new with old codes.

With July 1 drawing near, the lawyers’ fraternity is having a nervous time. Will they rise to the challenge and take on the new codes as seamlessly as they have always done, or will they fumble in unknown territory? There’s one thing for sure—the contours of law in India will never be the same again.

Citizens are torn between expectation and apprehension in the face of an overhauling of the laws.

The National Litigation Policy looks at smoothening the judicial process and offers relief in financial terms, easing government litigation. The new criminal laws, which are to supplant IPC, CrPC, and Evidence act, poised to redefine compliance with the law, make justice complicated through dualism and definitely shall increase the multiplicity of cases at the higher levels arising out of the base cases. Citizens wonder if this legal facelift is going to result in expeditious justice or it is going to add to their woes and that of the court caseload. The IPC, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act—India’s legal trinity that has endured for over a century—have got a script revision only to underline the need for having a predictable legal narrative. Ambiguity in laws makes it tough for the citizens to stay compliant—threat of inconsistent legal interpretations looms large. This July, the legal theater of India is going to enact a drama of two justice systems running parallel. The old laws will not haunt past deeds, but the new procedures might intimidate the accused, sparking debates that will reach the Supreme Court. Because now each provision in the new codes is open for interpretations and refined judicial scrutiny.

This overhaul will make the already slow judicial process even more sluggish and hence frustrating to the justice seekers.

Whether the already burdened court system is ready for such a show or what impact these new legal dramas would have on it remains doubtful, and whether the judiciary as a whole is prepared for such a performance or not.

The new criminal laws are going to further add to the already heavy workload of the judiciary. The endless postponements will increase. These have, however, not been reviewed for their likely impact on the current delays or the additional resources needed to improve the criminal justice delivery system. The accumulation, according to the National Judicial Data Grid, of criminal cases is piling. This is akin to a perpetual legal gridlock and estimations are that the case backlogs will increase by 30%. The public is left in suspense as to which legal script controls the liberties. A person can be prosecuted by the NIA and also by the local police under the new law-making regime. Double legal problems could be caused to a person; hence, there needs to be a judicial hold or pause of the NLP, BNS, BNSS, and BSA of 2023. These laws will only add to the docket backlog that potentially tramples fundamental rights. Harmony between national security and human freedom is like tightrope-walking over a yawning legal chasm. The sedition law, now refurbished in Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023, is making a comeback despite the Supreme Court’s past interventions. The changed avatar of ‘Sovereignty and Integrity’ can blow up a molehill into a major case law. At the very same moment, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023, can nullify the Supreme Court’s dictum, making a mockery of defense of civil liberties.

Besides all above, a pressing issue haunts the minds of lawyers, judges, police personals and legal scholars alike. Was our extensive legal education merely a facade? For years, lawyers and judges have poured over books, analysed cases, and endured rigorous training, all to earn the coveted title of lawyer and judge. In the same way, backbone of any criminal case, the police officials had underwent months of training that enabled them to investigate the cases diligently.

Now that crash courses in newly enacted criminal codes are available just in a few hours, basically, the very foundation of legal expertise seems shaken. How can brushing up on these newly enacted substantial criminal laws in some hours prepare one enough to wield the scales of justice? Can Fleeting Education Take the Place of Those Dedicated Years of Study Demanded by Traditional Legal Training?

Even police officers and judiciary staff fall under the shadow of uncertainty.

The training period is a short one, so the BIG question that remains is whether they are prepared to deal with citizens’ futures.

Many of these investigators, prosecutors, and judges will decide fates of defendants now. Notably, this kind of accelerated training course was attended by only 0.4% of officials among the respondents in law enforcement and related fields; thus, raising concerns that this period might be too short to turn out qualified attorneys, fair-minded judges, and efficient investigators. Also consider the fate of future law students. Shall they have to digest not only antediluvian colonial laws but also their modern cousins? Or shall they only have to grapple with the ‘desi’ version of our significant criminal statutes? And in the latter case, can they appear in courts in the old cases under the old so-called colonial laws if they haven’t studied them as a subject? Are we, in our quest to be efficient, being unfair to our citizens? The heart of legal education, which once was representational of painstaking effort and mastery, now stands at the juncture. Yet, in uncertainty, one thing is clear: expediency and excellence must stand poised intricately lest we sacrifice the very throne on which Justice stands.

It is, therefore, not in brevity that the true test of legal education lies, but in timeless commitment to uprightness and thoroughness. For it is always wisdom and not haste which, on the scales of justice, must outweigh.

Either way, the jury is still out for the impact of these changes. The one thing that definitely can be said, however, is that justice, even when blind, is never stagnant. And then there comes a legal makeover—the beginning of a thrashing rollercoaster on which we’re all strapped.

So here’s to the lawyers dusting off their books, judges dusting off the legalese, and others watching with bated breath as the grand legal spectacle of 2024 plays itself out. Cheers to justice, redefined, revamped, and ready for a new era!

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