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`Doing law differently'
May, 18th 2007
That is the title of a paper prepared by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the Lord Chancellor of Britain, Lord Falconer, pursuant to which a revolution in the administration of justice has taken place. At one stroke, Britain has abolished the system whereby, for centuries, the Lord Chancellor, a politician with preferably a legal background, appointed by the Prime Minister, was both a Minister looking after legal and Constitutional affairs and head of the judiciary responsible for judicial appointments and monitoring the working of the judiciary.

Even though the independence of the judiciary had not, in practice, been affected by the combination of both sets of duties, it certainly was a fall from the ideal. Indeed, it is a matter for wonder how and why the British, sticklers for keeping up appearances, allowed such an arrangement to continue so long. Under the new set-up, the Lord Chief Justice has become head of the judiciary, and the Lord Chancellor will attend to the framing of laws and piloting them in Parliament, maintaining the sanctity of the line dividing the legislative and executive branches, on the one hand, and the judiciary, on the other.

Also, the powers of selection and appointment of judges, previously vested in him, have been transferred to a newly created Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). It is an independent statutory body charged with the task of empanelling persons of the needed integrity, calibre and competence for judicial appointments at various levels.

In doing so, it is specifically required to draw from a broad-based pool of talents and professional attainments to bring about a balanced representation for women and blacks and other ethnic groups. Transparency in the process of recruitment has been assured by the appointment of an independent Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman.

Clean Sweep

The juggernaut of judicial reforms has also made a clean sweep of the age-old Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, which used to be the final court of appeal. It has now been wound up and replaced by a Supreme Court. It is an altogether a brand new experience for the denizens of the British Isles.

There was no way the criminal justice system could escape the cleansing process since "60 per cent of people believe that (it) is ineffective in bringing offenders to justice and around a quarter of court users emerge with a confidence level in the court system lower than it was before they experienced it".

We, in India, accustomed that we are to decades of law's delays, would find it strange that Lord Falconer considers it unconscionable that in 2005, cases in the Magistrates' Courts took on average 153 days from offence to completion. We may be stunned to know that "not too long ago... Magistrates' Courts were regularly dealing on Monday mornings with cases relating to crimes which had taken place over the weekend."

In this background, the aim of revamping the criminal justice system crime today, court tomorrow, disposal the day after! must take our breath away!

The paper covers the full range of what it means to `do law differently'. Lord Falconer produces it in April 2006 and the reforms are on their way to fruition in April 2007. Can India beat this? No. Because we suffer from `paralysis by analysis' and are experts at losing ourselves in a flurry of `activities without action'.

B. S. RAGHAVAN

 
 
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