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Never Confuse Law With Justice, What Is Just May Not Be Always Legal : Justice DY Chandrachud

Padmakshi Sharma
7 Aug 2022 4:24 AM GMT
Never Confuse Law With Justice, What Is Just May Not Be Always Legal : Justice DY Chandrachud
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Justice D.Y. Chandrachud presided over and delivered the Convocation Address for the 11th Convocation ceremony of Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. While he could not physically attend the ceremony, Justice Chandrachud recorded a message for the graduating students. While addressing the students, Justice Chandrachud asked them to never confuse 'law' with 'justice'. He stated...

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud presided over and delivered the Convocation Address for the 11th Convocation ceremony of Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. While he could not physically attend the ceremony, Justice Chandrachud recorded a message for the graduating students. 

While addressing the students, Justice Chandrachud asked them to never confuse 'law' with 'justice'. He stated that he had drawn this advice from Prof WP Quigley's 'Letter to a Law student interested in Social Justice'. While putting this in the Indian context, he stated that Indians did not have to look too far to decipher the difference between law and justice. To elaborate upon the same he gave examples of women being granted interest in coparcenary property and getting equality in terms of succession to property only in 2005, India not having legislations regulating child labour for a long time, minimum wages across the world being a result of recent labour movements and Section 377 of IPC, which criminalised sexual relations even between consenting adults of the same gender, only being recently struck down in the case of Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India. While highlighting that all these issues existed simultaneously with the institutions of law despite them being unjust, he stated that–

"There continue to be laws as well as lack of regulations which push the marginalized deeper in the pockets of marginalisation. At many points in your career you will realise that what is legal is probably unjust, whereas what is just may not be always legal..You must remember the importance of differentiating between law and justice and critiquing the law as a step to advance justice. 'Niti', in other words, does not always result in 'Nyaya'."

Justice Chandrachud also spoke about the importance of emotions in the legal field. He stated that unlike the stoic image of law that was generally represented as a mark of a good judge or lawyer, the characterisation of emotions as a force that warps and degrades judgement was incorrect. While relying on scholarships of critical legal scholars through past two decades, Justice Chandrachud stated that understanding emotions was an essential part of building a fairer and more effective system. He encouraged students to continue to stay in touch and be guided by their emotional side and said–

"Even the assumption of emotions leading individuals astray have more frequently applied to individuals and groups with a marginalised status- primarily, groups and individuals, lacking social and economic educational or political capital. So, unlike what many people would tell you is the norm in law, I would beseech you, at least on some occasions to bear your hearts on your sleeves...In our profession, it is very easy over the years to forget that each case you're dealing with defines the trajectory of life of the individuals involved in that case, even though it may be just one of the multiple cases you're dealing with that day. Therefore, one of the principle learnings which I have come across as a judge is there is no case which is too big and certainly, there is no case which is too small or ordinary."

Justice Chandrachud also spoke about his personal journey and reassured the students that it was perfectly okay to be confused about the choices that they want to make. He stated that he did not even have plans to pursue law after finishing his undergraduate degree from St. Stephens College in Economics Hons and was actually set to pursue masters in the field. However, like the movie '3 Idiots', he too started attending classes just for knowledge in Campus Law Center and was riveted by the way law was taught. While speaking of his moments of doubts in his early days in the field of law, he said–

"In my early days, after I returned to the bar, upon completing my Doctoral studies at Harvard Law School, I had moments of doubt. I had returned to India in preference to a high-paying job at a Wall Street Law Firm. My first brief for mentioning a case for listing yielded a docket fee of 5 gms. Though we marked our fees in gms, there were no real gold mohars which came to counsel. My fee of 5 gms translated to all of 75 Rs. A Harvard Degree, notwithstanding, that was how the market for legal services priced my worth. The reason I am sharing this story is to let all of you know that life is much a series of accidents than a linear planned event. And it is always okay to take your time to explore. All choices you make are worthwhile choices. There is no single way to use your law degree. There is no curriculum to life. At every stage, life is an elective."

While making a reference to Aaron Burr's character from the famous musical, Hamilton, Justice Chandrachud stated that outside the world of litigation, and in the world of social justice, the respectability politics that Burr advocates, that is, the belief that marginalised communities must adhere to dominant cultural norms to receive respect had received fair amount of criticism. He stated that much before the term 'respectability politics' was coined, the famous sociologist, W.E.B. Du Bois, in his pioneering work, diagnosed the issue of double consciousness for marginalised groups which such adherence only furthered. He said that–

"As Iris Young discussed, cultural imperialism, was one of the phrases of oppression faced by marginalised groups. She notes that how the dominant culture will always define such groups as "deviants" and would fail to represent the groups' experiences. In other words, respectability politics may sometimes even lead to further marginalisation of sub-groups...The words famously attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it" must be incorporated into our being. Make no mistake, being accepting and tolerant of opinions of others by no means translates to blind conformity and it does not mean not standing up against hate speech."

"Stepping into the world as fresh graduates amidst the increasing noise and confusion of political, social and moral clashes of ideologies, you must be guided in your path by your own conscience. Speak truth to power, maintain your composure in the face of unspeakable social injustices and utilise your good fortune and privilege positions to help them", he said.

He concluded his address by urging students, as young wide eyed graduates, to aspire to attain utopia, "for the harbingers of change are often hopeless dreamers". 

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