Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has suggested promoting a “strong inter-disciplinary agenda” in law education.
Delivering the first annual convocation address at the Gujarat National Law University here on Sunday, Mr. Justice Balakrishnan said the insights gained from disciplines like political science, sociology, economics, history, philosophy and literature would help legal practitioners enrich their understanding of the evolution of laws and help them initiate reforms for the future.
He said an important lesson he had learnt was that laws could not be interpreted and applied in a mechanical and insulated manner. In the course of interpreting statutes and regulations, the courts must also take into account policy concerns and legislative intents. Very often the judges encounter situations neither contemplated by the legislature nor discussed in judicial precedents. On such occasions, the judges need to draw insights from a wide variety of sources, often going beyond the plain reading of statutes and the submissions made by counsel.
Besides, with the growth of the specialised practice areas such as natural resources, international trade, intellectual property and technology, the inter-disciplinary inputs, which also must come from the natural sciences and commerce-related subjects, could go a long way in solving cases, he said.
Expressing happiness at the success of the five-year model of legal education, which he attributed largely to the intensive environment of a residential campus, Justice Balakrishnan said while the focus of the curriculum tended to be on the absorption of theories, doctrines and case-law, the peer-to-peer interaction helped in dissolving the traditional social boundaries based on caste, religion, class and regionalism.
He said he was happy that more and more female students were taking up legal studies and performing exceedingly well. “This augurs well for the future, since a larger number of female lawyers and judges are needed to mitigate the existing gender gap in our legal system.”
Pointing out that the legal profession itself was undergoing massive changes with the young law graduates now having a greater range of opportunities in their professional careers like working in foreign countries or international institutions and multinational corporations, he urged talented graduates to think of careers in mainstream litigation, the judiciary and teaching as well as public service.
He said though some measures had been taken to encourage law graduates to take up teaching and research, much more required to be done so that “our best minds choose this line of work,” he said.
He said the country was facing an acute shortage of motivated and committed law teachers. Most of the colleges and departments were perennially cash-strapped and struggle to retain qualified and motivated law teachers.
“Some colleges function in a ‘very politicised' environment where serious academic pursuits often take a backseat,” he regretted.
The Chief Justice decried “unnecessary litigation” and said very often the advocates tend to impose solutions on clients rather than listening to them and suggesting the best course of action. Alternatives like mediation and negotiated settlements are often not explored. Even in courtrooms, both lawyers and judges often get entangled in excessive argumentation and technicalities, losing sight of the real interests of the litigants.
“We are all encouraged to think like a lawyer and win arguments rather than coming up with mutually beneficial solutions,” he regretted, and said this “predisposition towards an adversarial and combative style of functioning” could be attributed to the “structure of our educational system.”
Admitting that in the present age of competition every one tried to do well in academics and eventually secure good job opportunities, Justice Balakrishnan said the spirit of competition should also be channelled in creative and innovative ways. The law schools should be viewed as “spaces that encourage rational and critical inquiry into socio-economic realities.”
Stressing the need for “meaningful practical experience through participation in legal literacy programmes to observe the law-in-action as opposed the law-in-the-books,” he advised the law graduates to play a vital role in spreading legal awareness among the disadvantaged sections to become the “agents of real social change.”
The former judge of the Zimbabwe Supreme Court, Ahmed Musa Ebrahim, who was the guest of honour, said the function of the legislature in a free society was to create and maintain the conditions which would uphold the dignity of man as an individual, recognition of his civil and political rights as well as the establishment of social, economic educational and cultural conditions which were essential for the full development of his personality. The judiciary should ensure “satisfaction of a judgment” if the person suffered any “injury” in his dignity.