Whether a litigant gets a fair judgement in the court of law depends largely on the quality of advocacy presented by his/her advocate. This holds good in England, in United States of America and India is no exception. The Indian Legal System has certain essential constituents, namely, the judges, the advocates, the litigants, the law teachers and students. Each of these constituents have a vital role in ensuring that the Indian Legal System delivers justice and becomes Indian Justice System. However, the burden of securing justice falls on the most part on the advocates. The Parliament of India, recognising this fact has enacted Legal Services Authority Act, as per which even the poor can access legal aid advocates at State expense. Access to quality justice is access to quality lawyers. The question is can the poor access quality lawyers?
Indian Judicial System provides a four tier appellate hierarchy to a legal case. It starts with Trial Court and goes on to the First Appellate Court, the High Court and finally to the Supreme Court. As one goes up the ladder, the cost rises exponentially. The poor man's access to superior courts becomes lesser and lesser. The legal remedy of Appeal is progressively expensive and unaffordable to the poor.
But whether the poor can expect a fair judgement in the Indian Judicial System is a subjective issue. This issue can be best analysed in the given matrix of facts and circumstances. There are a variety of laws, a broad classification in the present context would be Human Rights Law, Criminal Law and Civil Law. Each situation warrants a separate discussion.
Firstly, consider the Human Rights Law. The legally enforceable Human Rights are contained in the Constitution of India as Fundamental Rights and in a number of statutory instruments enacted by the legislature. The Indian Legal System has shown much sensitivity towards this branch of law. The Supreme Court has held that even a letter to judges showing violation of Fundamental Rights as be treated as a writ petition. This is a revolutionary development because in such a scenario, the Court itself appoints an advocate to fight the case. The poor does not have to shed a penny apart from the postal charges of the letter. The Supreme Court has also laid down the concept of Public Interest Litigation, which enables the public spirited person to seek justice for the economically disadvantaged people. The advocates, in general, take cases pro bono in Human Rights Law as it gives a great inner satisfaction to protect the basic human rights of the poor and disadvantaged people.
Secondly, consider the Criminal Law. These cases are the responsibility of the State, form investigation to prosecution to appeal. The State has enormous resources and an army of trained lawyers. In a scenario if a poor man is the accused, whether he can expect a fair judgement depends on the quality of lawyer he gets. Many good lawyers take up pro bono criminal cases. One gets great personal satisfaction to set free an innocent poor man. But if the poor man is not lucky, he gets a legal aid lawyer under the Legal Services Authority Act. The legal aid lawyers have a reputation of not being up to the standard. In that scenario, the poor can expect sub-standard legal services and a like judgement.
Thirdly, consider the Civil Law. The Civil suits evoke minimum empathy of the Indian Legal System. Very few good lawyers take pro bono Civil Law cases, as they go on for years and years. In such a scenario, a poor man has less chances of a fair judgement if set up against a rich man; but equal chances of fair judgement if set up against another poor.
Thus we observe that the quality of justice which a poor man can expect from the Indian Judicial System is a question of fact. It depends on the branch of law the poor finds himself, in Human Rights Law the lawyers and judges are pro active in defending rights of the poor on the other hand the same is not true in Civil Law. It depends on the financial position of his adversary. It depends on the luck of the poor man, if a good lawyer agrees to take his case pro bono then definitely the poor can expect a fair judgement.