My America Tour -10

Telugu Original : Avula Gopala Krishna Murty (AGK)

English Translation: Komala Venigalla

Law Courts

          Education, local bodies, Newspapers and the law courts keep democracy thriving. If any one of them faulter  it will be a blow to democracy.

          All these four areas are equally important and play their roles well to strengthen the nation.

          Law courts safeguard the interests and the rights of the people. In ancient India this law was called `Smriti`. It means the law known to everybody.

          The work of the law courts is always to protect the rights of people-individually and collectively- as per the principles laid out in their constitution.

          In the eyes of law all are equal, no difference between the government and the people, no difference between the rulers and ruled.

          Once we had that kind of difference of inequality in our country .Of late the scene is changing moving slowly towards equality.

          In this country there were inequalities in certain fields. But here the law courts started cutting those differences off.According to law there is no inequality in this country. Even we are trying to achieve equality in the eyes of law. In our country laws based on different religions should be wiped out giving way to one uniform `Civil Law` throughout the country. Then only the Constitution law  will be established with  no inequality.

          Throughout America there is  one and only civil law. But in the case of Blacks there is  some inequality.

          Just like our High courts  here each state has an appalete court, in some states they call it supreme court. The national Supreme court is in  Washington. There are seven justices -one  of them is the chief Justice. This is the Highest court.

          The disparities between the states are in the appellate court. Appeals and writ petitions are mostly taken up by the Supreme court. The cases basing on the  individual rights-within the constitutional per view- are mainly taken care of by the Supreme Court.

          I visited the Supreme Court. The building is imposing. The court hall emits peaceful atmosphere. I had interaction with the officials there.  The court was built in Roosevelt`s time in 1933 spending 4 crore 65 lakh rupees. Its structure and shape, the architecture  inspire the visitors with the feeling that this is the center  famous for  its law and justice.

          Unlike in our courts all seven justices sit together, listen to cases and the verdict is based on the majority opinion.

          In some states they call their High courts Supreme court. I remarked about this to the New York State attorney general saying that it is not right to give the same name to the highest court and the high court. He agreed but said that they are used to it and know the difference.  It will be better if the names changed said Minnesota Attorney General Mondel because appeal on the Supreme  court  is done to Supreme court (highest court).

          There is  a vast difference between our legal system and theirs.

          We have certain central laws and certain state laws. The central laws are followed by all the states. The states should not make laws opposing them.

          In America each State frames its own laws.

          They make their separate laws regarding procedure or substantive law.  

          In our country there are two major laws -`civil procedure` and `criminal procedure`.According to them  all  courts must function.

          The American courts have fifty kinds of procedures in fifty states. Each state follows what it prefers. There is no uniform system.

          Even important laws are framed by each state. Our central government imposes laws regarding contracts, transfer of wealth, partnerships, arbitrary, easements etc on all our states. That kind of  dictatorship  is not here. We observe their federal Constitution wherein central interference is very limited. They allow the States full autonomy. That is the base for decentralization.

          Even ours is federal Constitution, we say. But with the central interference the States are functioning like municipalities. Americans cannot tolerate it. But here in India our states welcome it and bow before it.

          In our country autonomy and  provincial rights are meeting slow death whereas in America they are getting stronger day by day. It depends upon their law making system.

          There is election system in many areas of the law courts. They elect justices at the time of local body elections.

          Even though the President nominates Justices to their Supreme court they should be approved by their Senate. Attorney Generals are nominated on the party basis. When I went to the Little Rock city one incident took place there. President Kennedy came to their State-Arkansas. The State Governor was a Republican and also opposed to the Blacks. He came to Kennedy`s meeting and spoke welcoming and then criticized the policies of  the President.

          Some politicians and the news papers  remarked against the governor`s criticism.  

          The State attorney General gave a statement supporting the Governor.

          While interacting with Hogan and Mondel I asked them whether it is not good to have a uniform criminal and civil procedure in all their States. They said that their system is not harmful to them.

          I expressed my opinion that uniform procedures will help  the lawyers and make the work easy in the law courts and Supreme court too.

          They said-` we are not facing any problems with our existing system. If we accept central procedure in one case there is the danger of its interference in all cases  thus destroying the provincial independence.

          I accepted their argument. We have to notice their provincial democratic system. That  is the American  speciality of asserting provincial independence.

          I expressed my doubt–` By electing legal officers and justices are they not bringing in party feelings and influence into the law field which may hinder the protection of justice in some cases?

          They said- `That is not our experience so far`.

          I said -`Because of the opposition between the parties there is the possibility of judging the cases with party partiality`.

          Some denied such possibility. Some opined  that such risks will not arise. Some said that thus far they  did not come across such partiality.

          Our laws and our experiences are different from theirs.

          They have special family courts in America. If problems arise between wife and husband ,between  parents and children the family courts take up such cases and deal with their legal aspects.

          In such courts there are more women justices than men. In general there are many women justices in America.

          They have `divorce` as a major problem. Once `Hollywood` was notorious for divorce cases. So they used to say` if we address a person Mrs so and so today, we have to  doubt whether we can address her with the same name tomorrow`. She may have a different spouse by then or free from the previous spouse. Hence that particular lady herself has to come to our rescue mentioning her present status.

          That kind of severe situation is changing there too. If they have large number of divorce cases why is it so?Are they morally downgraded? No. Not all.

          They have a reason. They consider a woman and a man  as individuals. They are equal in status. Their status is equal in marriage too. In our country we say- we  give our daughter  to so and so in marriage. But here both get married maintaining their individuality and individual rights.

          If there comes a disparity in such a status it leads to the dissolution of their marriage. Like in India if the wife and husband are not happy in their married life – reasons may be many- do not continue to live together for society`a sake or in the name of family reputation.Their marriages are relationships between two equal human beings. If that relationship goes off the track  they seek divorce.

          Divorces are decided upon in the family courts. We too have new divorce laws  but very few cases come to our courts.

          In the law courts the protection of the individual`s rights is given prominence. Compensation cases are also important. If the municipality digs ditches in the road and causes  inconvenience to a traveler  he will go to court for compensation. He does not simply keep quiet.

          There are pauper cases in their State courts and in the Supreme court. `Pauper` means one who cannot  pay court fees for a case. There are 32 pauper cases in 1932 and in 1963 there are 1629 cases in the Supreme court. One of the court officials gave me that information  during our discussions.

          A Supreme court justice gets an annual pay of 1 75 000 rupees. Appeal court judge gets  1 25000 rupees and district court judge gets 1 10 000 rupees. But New York court justice gets more salary than the justices in the Supreme court get.

          In 1963 there were  28000 cases in the Supreme court out of which 16000 have been cleared. In the other courts too the cases are cleared in  the same ratio.

          Though they have different laws in different  states they have certain central organizations in Chicago to look into common needs of all the states and bring out uniform decisions regarding them.

          They have Inner state department. If the laws in some states give good results other states study them and adopt  them to their needs. This kind of effort  is always done. In this department there are representatives   of all states and prominent justices. If there is friction among the states it is resolved by the inner state arbitration. In case it could not be resolved there  the case goes to Supreme court.

          There is an association of national attorney generals. The Attorney Generals of different states are members in it. It is their work to advice on the laws of their states. Hence they all meet, exchange their experiences comparing them with the experiences of other state Attorney Generals and if necessary adopt their laws to their particular state.

          They  gather lots of literature arising on their experiences and bring uniformity among laws. It shows the strength of their laws.  

          My discussions with Posner and Manson were very useful.Americans have great respect to our law courts thinking that they meet  out virtual justice to people.

          In India we should not discuss a case outside when it is still in the law court. On the basis of the rule ` Sub judice` we are prohibited to discuss it. This we have inherited  from the British.

          But in America there is no such law of `sub judice`. So when the case is still in the court news papers and others also discuss them and express their opinions about those cases.

          That is why Ellen Roy`s brother Robert  Goltschock expressed disappointment about the verdict passed in Dehradun in her murder  on 13 th December 1960. He asked me why  we could not bring pressure on the court. I told him that ` sub judice` prevented us from doing so. He felt very sad.

          Law courts play a great part in protecting peoples` rights from government`s authority. Their law courts apply the rights mentioned in democratic Constitution and protect life of people. Law courts really fortify their democracy any day.


(to be continued…)

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