Edit/Op-Ed

Mob Justice and Subversion of Rule of Law

ameeque jamai

Meraj Ahmad for BeyondHeadlines

Rule of law is the cornerstone of modern democracy. There are many aspects of the rule of law, and one such conception hinges on due process of law that is significantly different from the phrase procedure established by law. In other words, the presence of law is the primary condition, but justness of the law is quite different thing. Administration of justice is one thing while application of black and white rules is quite different. Our justice system is conceived in an institutional framework where every component is supposed to conform the due process of law. Any subversion from this standard norm should be a matter of grave concern.

India is an evolving democracy. Historically, even before independence, it has gone through several ideological churning and contesting ideas. After independence, Constituent Assembly came out with the foundation of modern India i.e. Constitution of India. It provided enough space for different political, social, cultural and religious ideologies in a vibrant democratic polity. At the same time this sacrosanct document also ensured that rule of law has to be established to sustain democracy. Over the years, our honorable courts expanded the constitutional jurisprudence positively and progressively. Article 21 of Indian Constitution is the prime example.

We not only inherited English system of administration of justice, but also amended it whenever required to. Our collective experience reveals that democratic institutions must be strengthened and justice be delivered by the courts. This is how State by the people for the people runs. We must appreciate our polity for respecting separation of power and for not intruding into the domain of other branches of the State. But this is all about mechanical State arrangements. Democratic State institutions are the trustee of the common good. People’s participation in the State is sine qua non to ensure trust between the State and citizens.

But what if a well organized mob in the garb of common people or certain classes like lawyers threatens the very foundation of the State? What if they indulge in delivering instant justice by using the same slogan of nationalism that was used during the period of freedom struggle? What if some people fashioning tricolor to commit contempt of court? Certain incidents in the last few days raise many challenging questions. Attack at Patiala House court by the group of lawyers on journalist, teachers, students, etc. is not only a matter of grave concern but also a matter of opprobrium. The degree of shame even gets gigantic when they are seen with tricolor flag and at the same time, causing utter contempt to the whole conception of constitutional democracy.

As law students we are taught almost every statute and most profoundly the jurisprudence and Constitution of India. One of the principles that as law students, we are reminded again and again that every accused is innocent unless proved guilty by the court. And in any such case, howsoever sensitive it may be, public opinion hardly matters. It should also be noted down that public opinion may also be manufactured by a group of persons (or lawyers in the present case) affiliated to any political party. Megyn Kelly famously remarked that, “I am soulless lawyer. Give me any opinion and I can argue it”. The focus should be here on the word argue, and not to brawl violently.

Lawyers are the officers of the court. Their prime duty is to assist the court and in turn facilitate the whole process of administration of justice. At the same time they are citizens of the country. Indeed, they are entitled to any political ideology whatsoever they wish to but here lies the difference. As citizen lawyers are equally or even more bound by the constitutional norms itself.

The ever expanding anarchism of the few in the garb of lawyers raised many eyebrows recently. Senior members from legal fraternity are speaking more prominently than even before in this regard. Nobody, including lawyers, should be allowed to take the law into their own hand. They must be dealt with properly, and if found guilty, their membership should be cancelled for certain periods.

The wheels of justice must run for all, including accused, for the smooth functioning of democratic institutions. As proud citizens our prime job is to secure rule of law for all and strengthen democratic institutions bit by bit. Otherwise the mob justice system will subvert the rule of law for sure.

(The author is  Legal Research Scholar and he can be contacted at merajahmad1984@gmail.com)

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