25 Feb 2023 12:29 PM GMT
Delivering the Inaugural Silver Jubilee Lecture-cum-Convocation Address at the 19th Annual Convocation of NALSAR University, the Chief Justice of India, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on Saturday, highlighted the importance of empathy and compassion in legal education.“I believe that empathy is an essential ingredient in the law and it is what separates a just society from an unjust one. It is...
Delivering the Inaugural Silver Jubilee Lecture-cum-Convocation Address at the 19th Annual Convocation of NALSAR University, the Chief Justice of India, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on Saturday, highlighted the importance of empathy and compassion in legal education.
“I believe that empathy is an essential ingredient in the law and it is what separates a just society from an unjust one. It is a critical component of justice and facilities in promoting a compassionate view of justice.”
Empathy and Compassion
While reflecting upon the practice of discrimination, which plagues the educational institutions, the CJI referred to the recent incident of a Dalit student committing suicide at IIT, Bombay. He recalled that similarly last year an Adivasi student at NLU, Odisha had also committed suicide. The CJI emphasised that incidents of suicide of students from the marginalised communities are becoming common and he believed the only way to address the issue was to recognise the problem.
“The incidents of suicide of students from the marginalised communities are becoming common. These numbers are not just statistics, they are stories sometimes of centuries of struggles. “
He was of the opinion that it is high time that rather than only focusing on creating institutions of eminence we focus on creating institutions of empathy.
The CJI reckoned that the judiciary should be part of the discourse as the lack of empathy in educational institutions is linked to the issue of discrimination.
“...judges cannot shy away from social realities. Instances of judicial dialogues are common across the globe.”
In this regard, he also referred to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States of America and the involvement of the judges in facilitating the movement. The CJI said similar efforts are to be made by the judges in India where they ought to engage in a dialogue with the society even beyond the courtrooms.
Focusing on ‘empathy’, which the CJI regarded as ‘an essential ingredient of law’ and ‘critical component of justice’, he expressed his opinion that it has the potential to end the culture of elitism and exclusion. Th CJI did not shy away from elucidating on the practices which entrenches caste discrimination -
“Allotment of hostels based on entrance marks which leads to caste based subjugation; putting out a public list of marks along with categories; asking for the marks of Dalit and Adivasi students publicly to humiliate them; making a mockery of their English and physical appearances; stigmatising them as inefficient; not acting on incidents of abuse and bullying; not providing a support system and reducing or stopping their fellowships; normalising stereotypes through joke…”
Criticising such practices, the CJI implored the educational institutions to attempt to inculcate a sense of empathy in the students and also towards them. He highlighted that the lack of empathy adversely impacts the mental health students.
“Lack of empathy in educational institutions have adverse effect on students. I have been emphasising on the mental health of lawyers. But equally important is the mental health of students.”
The CJI pointed out that the idea behind the creation of NLUs was to encourage law students to approach law with empathy. He also added that the idea was to promote an interdisciplinary learning based on a clinical education model which would allow human interaction with the study of law.
It was emphasised that the creation of NLUs was to make quality legal education accessible and not to create elite institutions. The CJI acknowledged that the NLUs have been struggling to be accessible to a large section of the society. He identified the concerns, particularly the one pertaining to the pattern of the entrance exam which acts as an impediment for students not well versed in the English language. However, he opined that merely changing the pattern of the exam would be of no use, until and unless the internal structure of the law schools are altered. The CJI was also vocal about the financial inaccessibility of these institutions. He suggested that the law schools and the Government sit together and chalk out a plan to make NLUs financially accessible. The CJI encouraged strengthening the traditional law universities so that legal education as a whole witnesses a revamp. He added that the NLUs rich in resources should assist other smaller law colleges to grow academically. Not particularly pleased about the clinical legal education imparted in the country, the CJI indicated that the representatives of the Bar Council of India, lawyers and judges should reflect on the state of clinical legal education in India.
“It is by reshaping our legal education model that we will be able to make empathy a core value of our legal system.We must work to address the structural inequalities that are built into our legal system and to create a system that truly reflects our shared values of justice.”
While addressing the issue of accessibility the CJI referred to the structural and functional changes made in the Supreme Court to improve accessibility in the profession. The Supreme Court has recently launched an E-version of Supreme Court judgements, enabling all to access about 34,000 reportable judgments of the Supreme court from 1950 to 2023 free of cost. Live-streaming and Video-conferencing facilities have also been made available so that lawyers from across the country can appear and argue before the Apex Court. The CJI pointed out that the video conferencing facility also ensures that women advocates, who fulfil multifold roles in society are able to access the profession on an equal platform. The availability of the said services would equip students with better arguing skills and would make legal education practice oriented. The use of technology apart from increasing access to justice also provides opportunity to enhance transparency.
“With this goal in mind, most recently we have started auto transcription of court proceedings by employing AI and hi-tech tools. By doing this our Court will become the 'court of record’ in its fullest sense,” said the CJI.
The CJI made it abundantly clear that though the Courts are moving towards technological advancement it is not moving away from the society that it serves.
“The purpose of technology is to ensure our work continues as it always has been at the centre stage of society, cognizant of the real life of our citizens on a day-to-day basis.”
Talking about inclusivity, the CJI apprised all present that he has approved in principle a proposal sent by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to have 36 law graduates from Scheduled Tribe community to come and work at the Supreme Court of India as Fellows. The CJI expressed hope - ‘these students whom we mentor today shall become successful lawyers and judges in the future’.
He also mentioned the Supreme Court’s effort to make the premises as well as its functioning accessible to the persons with disability. On 3rd December, 2022, the Chief Justice of India, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud constituted a Committee on Accessibility with the aim to conduct a comprehensive accessibility audit of the Supreme Court premises. The Committee headed by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat has the mandate to conduct an accessibility audit extending to both physical as well as functional accessibility.
Towards the end of his address, the CJI stated that with the advent of technology the Supreme Court is no longer limited by its geographical location -
“I do believe that the Supreme Court of India is not the Supreme Court of Tilak Marg, Delhi, but truly a court for the nation.”
On the issue of inclusivity in educational institutions, the CJI indicated that adopting technology in education has its drawback as online education might be inaccessible to the students from rural and marginalised backgrounds. Therefore, technology must be incorporated in education, but in the process it cannot practice exclusivity. He added -
“We can now see a number of YouTube Channels producing videos on legal concepts in a simplified form.The YouTube is the new world of opportunity in law as elsewhere. The number of views on these videos indicates the level of curiosity that our citizens have towards legal discourse. It is our job to make the citizens aware about the law.”
The CJI emphasises that technology should be used to take education to the masses so that law is no longer a profession of elites. He recommended that teaching resources be made available to students beyond the NLUs, so that quality learning can be promoted without any barrier. He beseech the NLUs to make educational videos freely available to all and sundry, so that education can become a sort of democratisation and the breaking down of feudal and patriarchal structures in our society.
“With collective efforts we shall be able to change the approach of legal education and the legal profession. We must use the law to create a society that is truly just, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”