...

Law, Legal Literacy, Communication Strategies And The Media: Changing Dimensions

Dr. Bharat Bhushan Parsoon
Judge, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh

Date : 11/05/2015 - Location : New Delhi

Abstract

Media, the fourth estate referring to press, as it is called, is a force to reckon within bringing welfare policies of the State in public domain. Studies have revealed that out of many sources through which dissemination of vital information for legal empowerment percolates to the people at large, media accounts for the biggest chunk. Even when any calamity strikes be it natural or otherwise, media accepted its social responsibility to mitigate the sufferings of vulnerable sections of the society.

Even with regard to legal literacy communication strategies and in particular suggesting of legal remedies in case of bouncing of cheques and how to recover the money staked therein, role of media is laudable. How media can be more effective and useful in its enlarged role in modern context of unprecedented advancements in the field of information technology and in the atmosphere of winds of change blowing fast and the chill being felt in every sphere of life, has also been studied.

Key words:- Media tools, fourth estate, legal literacy, communication strategies, legal empowerment, legal services, information technology.

Media, a potent force

Media, the fourth estate, as it is called referring to Press, is a potent force to bring to the force the welfare policies of the State in public domain. It is expected because it is constitutionally mandated that every citizen should have basic facilities of life, like education, guarantee of employment, social security, food, shelter and health services. Legitimacy of this expectation is found in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.[1]

But it is debatable as to how far we have achieved this end ?

Of late, aggressive media campaigning has taken a lead role in disseminating information to the general public about their rights. As a vital and vibrant campaigner, it always rose to the occasion, whenever the time to do so, came. Be it, some natural calamity or constitutional crisis, the Media owned the social responsibility to mitigate the sufferings of the destitute, poverty stricken as also of most vulnerable sections of the society.

Communication and dissemination of information

Multiple channels now are available in the electronic media for airing the views. Aggressive use of varied applications on mobile phones, can play a vital role of communication of the welfare policies of the Government as also of the rights available to the public with reference to the remedies for their enforcement.

On mobile phones several application are available like phone banking, e-ticketing, e-health & e-courts etc. After developing different texts to be used as messages targeting different segments of the society, applications like whatsapp can be used for legal empowerment of the people at large. In the electronic media as also through documentaries special programmes can be aired to popularize the concept of legal awareness and thereby the people themselves can be made potent force for development of the society.

Lack of knowledge and the common man

The worst part of the matter is lack of knowledge of the common man about his legal rights. For want of adequate legal knowledge of procedure regarding accessibility of the relevant machinery, what to talk of petty crimes, at times even serious crimes are not reported to the police. The ground reality is that common man is scared of law and as a result has developed an indifferent and at times rather hostile attitude toward the legal aspects and policies of the government governing his life thereunder. Law is a friend, it is not a foe. Role of law as a mentor and a guide lacks depiction.

Compulsory legal education

By now, it is strongly felt that the time has come to introduce legal education at different levels in the curriculum of students and that rather, it should be made compulsory. The irony is that even well educated persons most of the times lack basic and elementary knowledge of law.

In the factories, in business establishments and in other institutions including corporate houses as also in Government institutions, providing of basic knowledge of law to every one, should be on the top of the agenda.

Role of judiciary at the grass root level

Under the crushing weight of mounting arrears of cases, judiciary is over burdened but the stark reality cannot be ignored. Majority of litigants, having no knowledge of their legal rights and of machinery for their enforcement are vulnerable to the procedural niceties of the Court system. Heavy cause list of cases on the board also dissuades the Judicial Officers functioning in the Courts to convey information of legal rights to the public at large. It, however, is a matter of elation that a laudable step, which almost every Court takes, is about informing the accused in custody to avail the free of charge facility of a lawyer on the panel of legal aid counsel, to defend him.

Availability of legal services

It needs special emphasis that a litigant comes into contact with the Court system, only when some law suit is filed against him or he himself is to file the same in the Court or when the victim lodges an FIR in pursuance to which, the accused is produced before the Court. At that time, a litigant is not fine tuned to the Court procedure. At that point, as a communication strategy, a litigant is to be made aware about his various legal rights to make legal services available to him under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, as also under multiple other statutes.

Take for instance, where a woman, a senior citizen, a poor person, a trans-gender, a person belonging to SC/ST community etc. is before the Court, such person can be made aware about his rights and benefits available under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 and various other schemes thereunder:-

Modes of communication

Few suggested modes of communication are outlined hereunder :-

(I) Brochure of various legal aid schemes to accompany the summons for service of parties and witnesses

Hon'ble Supreme Court took a lead role in taking the aid of Lok Adalats so as to tackle the ever increasing problem of mounting arrear of cases relating to the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. The legislature had provided remedy of even prosecution of the accused where a cheque is dishonoured for variety of reasons. But the legislature failed to comprehend the flurry of litigation, which such amendment in the Act made w.e.f. 1.4.1989, was to generate. No study or assessment had been made earlier for enforcement of such change in law. The result was, opening of the flood gates of litigation, making the Courts vulnerable. Heavy inflow of such cases, deflected attention of the Courts qua decision of other important cases. The Government had not contemplated the enormity of litigation, which the amendment in the Act was going to generate. No proportionate strength of judicial officers as also of supporting staff and of infrastructure was raised vis-a-vis the spurt in number of cases. A thought process though began to do something, but it was much later.

Amicable Settlement of cases

One of the modes conceived, to arrest the pendency of the said category of cases, was to send an intimation with the summons (for appearance of the accused or of witnesses), that if the accused so desires, he can settle the matter out of the Court, by paying the cheque amount to the complainant. Dishonour of the cheque provides two remedies to the complainant. First, to get back the money from the drawee of the cheque; and, second, to get the accused convicted as the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 is penal in nature as well. But invariably, since the transactions under this statute arise out of monetary transactions, major aim of the complainant is to get his money back. Civil remedies are time consuming and require affixation of Court fee stamp as well on the plaint but it is not the case while filing a complaint under Sections 138 and 142 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881.

On making the litigants aware of their right to settle the cases without the intervention of the Courts, a large number of cases were decided at the initial stage itself, because the accused at the stage of receipt of summons itself decided to avoid the prosecution, when he came forward to pay the disputed amount to the complainant. This had its impact even on the pending cases. When the accused in such pending cases, came to know that the matter can be settled through the medium of Lok Adalat, the patch up between the parties had started taking place and as a sequel, it helped in restoration of the confidence of public and prevented the proliferation of litigation further.

(II) Use of mobile phone for sending message :

Increase in number of cases, resulted in delayed decisions. Because of lack of innovations to provide rapid justice even genuinely wronged persons were fearful of the tardy and traumatic experience in the Courts. So as to make the Courts litigants friendly with commitment to provide fair, transparent and timely justice, the need of the hour is to make the court environment congenial and cordial for all the stake holders in the scheme of things. Processual re-engineering has already started to do away with redundancy and obsoletion. Extensive use of information technology and computerisation has started showing results.

Now a days, almost everyone, even poorest of the poor, owns a mobile handset. Even labourers and beggers possess mobile phones. This mode of communication, which is available to the vast sections of society, may be used as a tool to disseminate information about various legal aid schemes as also about other important matters. To achieve this end, the urgent need is to change the procedure so as to make it mandatory for every plaintiff in a civil case, and for every complainant in a private complaint criminal case, to submit mobile phone numbers of both the parties. It will not only cut down the delays in effecting the summoning process, but information even about latest developments in the fields of law, can be disseminated fast. Even, the courts may ask for the phone number of defendants or of the accused as the case may be, on their appearance.

The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 - bouncing of cheques

Take instance of a latest ruling of 2014 of Hon'ble Supreme Court in case Dashrath Roop Singh Rathore Vs. State of Maharastra, 2014(9) Scale 97 : 2014(4) Recent Apex Judgement : 2014(3) RCR (Criminal) 904 : 2014(4) RCR (Civil) 145 (SC) where a three Judges Bench of Honble Supreme Court of India by laying down various principles of law on the territorial jurisdiction of the Courts to entertain complaints under Section 138 of N.I. Act 1881, rewrote the entire concept by holding that it is only the Court of the place of banker of the accused, where the cheque is dishonoured that has the territorial jurisdiction to try and entertain the complaint. Further, directions were given to all the Courts to return those complaints, where they lacked jurisdiction excluding the cases, where the trial had yet not commenced in terms of Section 145(2) Cr.PC after serving notice of accusation upon the accused. This single judgement in itself has very wide ramifications.

Had mobile phone numbers of the parties been available with the courts, which in pending cases are not available, valuable time, money and energy could have been saved by informing the litigants about the change in law and about consequent steps to be taken by them. On pronouncement of this ruling by the Honble Apex Court, the Courts where such types of cases are pending, then could establish contact with both the parties for giving them the information about the ruling so as to enable the litigants to take further action as permissible in law. Though the Courts and Judicial Officers manning those, are always neutral but merely by giving valuable information to the litigants so as to make them aware of their rights, their neutrality is not going to be questioned as motives cannot be attributed to them because the system to be put in place, is to be available to all the litigants.

Victimology and compensation scheme

Likewise, in any criminal trial, a valuable information by way of SMS message, to complainant can go viral that after conviction of accused, he has right to get compensation. It is seen that complainant at times is totally unaware of the stage of prosecution of the accused in the Court of law.

Now after amendment in the Code of Criminal Procedure, as per proviso to Section 372 Cr.P.C., an independent right is available to a complainant to file appeal. The said proviso for ready reference is appended as under :-

"Provided that the victim shall have a right to prefer an appeal against any order passed by the Court acquitting the accused or convicting for a lesser offence or imposing inadequate compensation, and such appeal shall lie to the Court to which an appeal ordinarily lies against the order of conviction of such Court."[1]

Definition of victim has also been clarified in Section 2(wa) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. For quick reference, it is reproduced as under:

["victim" means a person who has suffered any loss or injury caused by reason of the act or omission for which the accused person has been charged and the expression "victim" includes his or her guardian or legal heir.][2]

Complainant also has an independent right to engage a counsel. Thus, a time has come, where not only the police should give information to the complainant that he does have such right but the judiciary must also own its duty to inform him about his said right.

(III) Role of District Legal Services Authority to carry forward this message of legal literacy to all:

Bar council of India, State Bar Councils, lawyers and various NGOs take the lead in promoting legal awareness and legal literacy. In India as per the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, the National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) has been designated to take appropriate measures to spread legal literacy and legal awareness amongst the people of India. In Indiana, in the United States of America, outreach for Legal Literacy is a community service programme, in which law students teach the fifth grades in local elementary Schools.

Legal literacy and legal empowerment

Legal awareness can empower people to demand justice, seek accountability and enforce specific remedies for redressal of the wrongs done to them. Legal needs always stand to become crisis oriented because of ignorance of laws and non availments of benefits thereunder. Approaching of a counsel for advice in time is out of question, without legal literacy. Rather, public remains alienated from law, legal system and legal enforcement agencies. Absence of legal literacy in fact, blocks peoples access to justice.

In India, various legal literacy schemes are being floated and spread through the medium of District Legal Services Authorities at the District and Sub Division Legal Service Committees at the Taluka level. These grass root legal services agencies, as of now, are leading from the front by performing multiple functions of planning, organising and popularising the concept of legal literacy. In Haryana, District Legal Service Authorities are administered by the District & Sessions Judges as their Chairmen, while an officer of the level of a Chief Judicial Magistrate as a whole time functionary acts as a secretary of a District Legal Services Authority in a district. The need of the hour is to have a relook on the functioning and structure of the same and redefine their roles by functional and administrative re-engineering.

Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Delhi Domestic Workers Women's Forum Vs. Union of India & others, 1995 SCC (1) 14 : 1995(1) RCR (Criminal) 194 (SC) gave very valuable directions, when in order to mitigate the sufferings of women, who are sexually victimised as also in order to check and balance the power of the police, it mandated that a system is to be put in place to assist the victim so that the victim is able to give true account of her trauma. Haryana Legal Services Authority took a lead and acting upon this mandate of Honble Apex Court, formulated a scheme to provide a lady prosecuting legal aid lawyer to every such female victim. Going a step forward, even child victims were included in this scheme. Accordingly, a panel of female legal aid lawyers was prepared by each District Legal Services Authority to help female and child victims. It was felt that recording of the statement of the stated victims in presence of a female legal aid prosecuting counsel would give an additional guarantee of its correct recording as also would generate confidence in the victim that whatever happened has been recorded verbatim. In this way, a laudable step has been taken, which could reduce the pains and pangs of the victims so as to wipe the tears of these sufferers, by creating inroads in the powers of the investigating police which till today has not been able to become people friendly by exuding faith amongst the common men. As per recent amendment brought in Section 154 Cr.PC :

1. Statement of lady victim is to be recorded by a lady police officer;

2. If such female victim is mentally or physically disabled, then statement of the victim is to be recorded at the residence of such victim or at a place of her choice, in presence of an interpreter or a special educator as the case may;

3. Recording of such statement is to be videographed; and,

4. Additionally, statement of such victim is also to be got recorded from a Judicial Magistrate as soon as possible under Section 164 Cr.P.C.[*]

Sequelly, consequent amendment in Section 164 Cr.PC has also been made whereby for recording statement of a mentally or physically disabled victim, help of an interpreter or special educator is necessary.[*] Medical examination of the victim has been made mandatory.[*] Such amendment has also been made in Section 161 Cr.PC. As per this amendment, when such victim is not the informant or the complainant (who initiated the process of reporting the matter) but rather is a witness whose statement thus is to be recorded, even then, such statement is to be recorded by a lady police officer.

Copy of statement of the victim to be given to her free of costs

It is already provided in Section 154 Cr.PC that copy of such statement is to be provided forthwith to the victim free of costs. In case incharge of any police station refuses to record statement of a victim or in the manner stipulated, then victim is legally authorized to send the substance of such information in writing and by post to the Superintendent of Police, concerned, who on being satisfied that such information discloses commission of a cognizable offence may either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any other police officer under him.

Presumption of absence of consent

By amending Section 114A of Cr.PC presumption of absence of consent of victim in certain cases of rape has been introduced.[*]
No sanction is required if such an offence is committed by a public Servant

By amending Section 197 Cr.PC, it has also been prescribed that if such an offence is alleged to have been committed by a public servant, then no sanction as prescribed in terms of Section 197 Cr.PC is required.[*]
Victim of below 18 years of age is not to be confronted by the accused

Where statement of a victim who is below the age of 18 years is to be recorded in the Court, provision has been made that such victim is not to be confronted by the accused.[*]
Trial to be completed within 2 months after filing of charge sheet

Even expeditious trial of such offences has been ensured by mandating a period of only two months from the date of filing of the charge-sheet.[*] >

Compensation to the victims: Role of District Legal Services Authority

Another important function, which is being performed by the District Legal Service Authority is to decide the applications for compensation to the victims, who are wronged by commission of some crime against them.

Victim Compensation Scheme

Section 357A providing for compensation to the victims, introduced w.e.f. 31.12.2009 reads as under :

"357A.Victim compensation scheme. (1)Every State Government in co-ordination with the Central Government shall prepare a scheme for providing funds for the purpose of compensation to the victim or his dependents who have suffered loss or injury as a result of the crime and who require rehabilitation.

(2) Whenever a recommendation is made by the Court for compensation, the District Legal Service Authority or the State Legal Service Authority, as the case may be, shall decide the quantum of compensation to be awarded under the scheme referred to in sub-section (1).

(3) If the trial Court, at the conclusion of the trial, is satisfied, that the compensation awarded under section 357 is not adequate for such rehabilitation, or where the cases end in acquittal or discharge and the victim has to be rehabilitated, it may make recommendation for compensation.

(4) Where the offender is not traced or identified, but the victim is identified, and where no trial takes place, the victim or his dependents may make an application to the State or the District Legal Services Authority for award of compensation.

(5) On receipt of such recommendations or on the application under sub-section (4), the State or the District Legal Services Authority shall, after due enquiry award adequate compensation by completing the enquiry within two months.

(6) The State or the District Legal Services Authority, as the case may be, to alleviate the suffering of the victim, may order for immediate first-aid facility or medical benefits to be made available free of cost on the certificate of the police officer not below the rank of the officer-in-charge of the police station or a Magistrate of the area concerned, or any other interim relief as the appropriate authority deems fit."

Compensation to be in addition to fine payable to the victim

Now w.e.f. 3.2.2013 by addition of Section 357B Cr.PC, it has been provided that this compensation is to be in addition to payment of fine to the victim.[*]
Free treatment of victims

Even for treatment of victims a special provision has been added making it mandatory for every hospital to treat such victims free of costs.[*] Hon'ble Supreme Court in Ankush Shivaji Gaekwad Vs. State of Maharastra, 2013(6) SCC 770 : 2013(3) Recent Apex Judgement 478 : 2013(2) RCR(Criminal) 1036 in and in latest case of Suresh & Others Vs. State of Haryana, Cr. Appeal No. 420 of 2012, D/d. 28.11.2014 : 2014(6) Recent Apex Judgement 530 : 2015(1) RCR (Criminal) 148(SC), has ruled that it is mandatory duty of the criminal Court to provide compensation to the wronged person, after the accused is held guilty. There is a concept of interim compensation as well. The Court is required to assign reasons where it does not pass such order.

Already existing age old provision was not considered proper to mitigate the sufferings of the victims. So the legislature added Section 357A in Cr.P.C., wherein District Legal Service Authority, has been entrusted the task of providing adequate compensation to the victims of crime as per the exigencies of situation. The criminal Court while convicting the accused for any offence, under Section 357A of Cr.P.C., shall also recommend for compensation to the victim.

The Government of Haryana vide notification dated 3rd April, 2013 framed the victim compensation scheme for providing funds for the purposes of compensation to the victims or his/her dependents, who have suffered loss or injuries as a result of crime and who require rehabilitation. It is the State Legal Service Authority, which shall be accountable for its funding. Any victim can even directly move to the legal services authorities for compensation. Such compensation schemes have been floated by almost every State and have functional.

Accessibility of the Scheme

The big question mark is on the accessibility of this Scheme by the concerned people. The common man is not aware about this Scheme. It is possible that even some legal men may have missed this valuable provision. Sequelly, it becomes the duty of legal services authorities that large scale publicity of these Schemes is also made. This may be through the help of law interns, para-legal volunteers, social activists, NGOs etc. It is time to act and fast. Even slums, and other thickly populated areas can be targeted, where such types of policies can be pupularized.

Three Judges Bench of Hon'ble Supreme Court in Damodar S Prabhu Vs. Sayed Baba Lal (H), SLP (Cr) No. 6369 of 2007 arising out of criminal appeal Nos. 964-966 of 2010 : 2010(3) Recent Apex Judgement 180 : 2010(2) RCR(Criminal) 851 giving a landmark judgement plugged the holes in the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, and elaborated Section 147 of the said Act, where one of the directions given was that the Court is to make the accused aware that he can get the offence compounded by signifying his intention to do so on the summons itself. If application for compounding the offence is moved by the accused at the initial stage, or at a later stage, compounding of offence can be done but by paying certain percentage of the cheque amount at the level of different Courts. The said amount is to be deposited with the legal services authority at the stated level of the Courts. To better disseminate the nuances of said directions, the need of the hour is to spread such like directions and information by doing "Nukkad Nataks", drama, plays etc.

Catch them young

School and colleges are the nurseries of our future. A legally equipped student will become a responsible citizen of society and can become a potent instrument to pass on the information to others. So, what we need is the elementary knowledge of law at the primary school level as also at the matriculation and higher secondary level. Detailed lessons, which should be blend of different laws with their enforcement machinery should be put in place. It is old legal adage that ignorance of law is not an excuse, but at the same time, even many legal literates do not know all the laws. So, lack of awareness of law among the public will increasingly make the task of law enforcing agencies tougher and still tougher unless strategies for communication of different laws and their enforcement machinery is put in place.

Methods to be adopted to promote legal awareness:

There are examples, where the governments have promoted long duration legal literacy missions and awareness campaigns. Even some institutions arrange for legal literacy events and deliberations. Legal awareness can also be achieved through legal literacy camps, lectures and interactive sessions, workshops and short duration crash programme etc. Knowledge of elementary laws to para-legal activists and volunteers may also be imparted. Other methods are road shows, radio-talks, reality shows, street-theater-plays, different campaigns, publication of relevant books in easily understandable languages, booklets and periodical, posters and charts dealing with particular laws, distribution of pamphlets, stickers, display of painting and hoardings, folk songs, rangoli, comics etc.

Display boards at strategic places of public activities like bus stands, railway stations, parks, markets, malls, government offices, police stations , Courts etc. can be used to spread the knowledge of laws and thus, mindset of people regarding such offences can be changed.

Outside factories and business houses, labour laws related issues can be highlighted. Likewise, out side hospitals, Bus stands, Railway Stations and Airports, there can be publicity as to what is medical negligence and what are settled legal issues before the motor accident claims Tribunals.

At this juncture, reference may be made to decision of directions given by Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Jai Parkash Vs. National Insurance Company, 2010 ACC 1 (SC) : 2010(1) Recent Apex Judgement 191 : 2010(1) RCR(Civil) 635 in order to mitigate the sufferings of roadside victims or the legal heirs of the deceased victims. The concept of AIR (Accident Information Report) has been introduced whereby it is the duty of concerned police station to submit all the papers including FIR to the concerned MACT, giving the details of accident and particulars of the victim/s, deceased, LRs, drivers, owners, insurance company, so that MACT in turn may treat the said report as a full fledged petition after appearance of the parties. This is a landmark judgement to communicate the legal rights of injured as well as of LRs of deceased to get compensation. Knowledge of law and respect for law are two distinct matters having separate parameters. These are complementary and supplementary to each other; unless a person knows laws, how he is supposed to respect those?

Conclusion

Legal literacy is key to legal empowerment of We, the people of India. The Press has a special role to play. Everyone is to contribute by spreading knowledge and information about basic knowledge of such laws and about way and means of their enforcement. Democracy will be functional and vibrating, only on legal empowerment of everyone.


Chawla Publications (P) Ltd.