Home > Law and governance > The limits of litigation

The limits of litigation

A book review by V.Venkatesan of Law and other things includes quotes from legal academic Upendra Baxi, which resonated with my sentiments:

If a social action petitioner had to attend the court on each of the 37 (actually a lot more) occasions – in this case coming from Pune to New Delhi – you can imagine the sacrifice of talent, time and money expected by the Supreme Court of India of a citizen pursuing the constitutional adventure of restoring elementary norms of civilised legality in India!

Indeed. Prof. Baxi mentions this in the context of a public interest litigation at the Supreme Court, but this is no less true for small and nearly trivial (for everyone but the litigant(s)) civil lawsuits in the local/state courts. At least in West Bengal, every civil suit seems to fall into a never-ending series of `dates’ — the re-listing of the case for another day.  Which makes me wonder —  if a lawsuit is filed by an individual or a group of individuals against an `official’ decision of a government office or a corporate body, why does the court repeatedly allow the defendant to take more time to prepare their documents and defense? After all, any official decision should be backed by reasons recorded in some documents already! So what do they need the time for?

Prof. Baxi goes on to exclaim that

while the state attorneys are fully taken care of at the cost of public exchequer in deviously defending manifest illegalities, a social action petitioner is summoned to sacrifice a good deal in the pursuit of an uncertain constitutional result.

This is also quite typical of all cases against government officials (who hide behind the government) and big corporations (who simply have a lot of money). Surely, if the court finds that `manifest illegalities’ had taken place, knowingly committed by the defendants, they can award punitive damages? For the cases against government officials, an alternative would be that costs of defense are to be paid by the officials who took the disputed decisions, to be reimbursed in full only if the court finds that the decisions were taken `in good faith’.

Many disputes never go to court as those who are wronged believe that they will not see justice in a reasonable time, viz., several years. And they keep suffering, and those who cause such suffering continue to inflict unjust decisions on others, emboldened by lack of legal admonition. Prolonged civil injustice is often met by violence, and sometimes all this snowballs into something ugly, like armed insurgency.

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