Justice delayed is justice denied
By Victor Karunairajan

The late M D Jeshuratnam when he took the bench at the Mallakam District Court in the 1970s, he was appalled by the heavy backlog of civil cases that went back years. He was determined to clear them fast and in the process came across one which was a dispute over a piece of land in Vadamaradchy which had a single coconut tree, as mostly the case with homesteads in Jaffna, the land itself hardly developed. Normally, they have only perennials and high fences.

On checking through the records he found the counsels for the respective parties in turn absented themselves and kept the case going on with dates. There was no doubt it was an arrangement between the counsels and the poor clients kept on paying the fees. When Mr Jeshuratnam, the new District Judge decided that this was enough and ordered an on the sight inspection of the property, the case came to an end. Even the coconut tree had disappeared.

One evening I informed someone known to me that I would call on him on a certain matter next morning. He said he had a court matter in Jaffna to which I suggested meeting him before he left for courts. His answer was that he had to leave almost at dawn to meet the magistrate in his home before he left for courts over a civil matter. His answer naturally surprised me for magistrates don’t hold court in their homes.

More curious to know what this was all about, I fixed a time to meet him that evening. Over a cup of tea at his home, he proudly told me he had the case going his way and the morning private visit to the magistrate paid its dividends.

Since that time this shady aspect of the court matters concerned me a great deal. I have also heard quite a bit of stories about the need to retain particular attorneys-at-law to have favourable results in the Magistrate’s Court of Jaffna and usually the victims are those who are denied the fair and just orders from the bench through means that corrupt the process of law. I have often wondered how many innocent people and those entitled to fair and just orders are denied this right by sheer corruption and or through delaying the process of law as much as possible for reasons unacceptable.

It was the great British statesman and one of England’s famous Prime Minister William Gladstone who was believed to have said that justice delayed is justice denied. The Late Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Baptist Minister and peace activist went one step further and said, “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”

The courts whether Magistrate, District, Appellate or Supreme are the most powerful institutions in a state. In quite a few countries they have the power over one’s life too. But in an overall consideration one can aver without any doubt that whatever a court determines make enormous impacts and even cause immense consequences to litigants. Justice and power are inseparable twins that can determine the course of good order in a country; equally corrupting this order could lead to chaos and anarchy.

No society should be placed in a situation where it begins to have doubts about the integrity of court officials not just the attorneys and officials only but even more the magistrates and judges. They are the ones who have been entrusted to administer justice and they must appreciate that their obligation to the community is such that they must recognize whatever is just is powerful and whatever powerful must be just.

The task of the presiding magistrates and judges has many distinct characteristics and they are pretty awesome. During the tenure of their office, the laws of the land, the rights of the citizens, the need for good order in the society and meting out just decisions are all that should concern them; these cannot be compromised.

Once one ascends the bench from the bar, he has to even forget his former clients altogether. He has no more counsel-client relationship to honour and his judgments should never be tainted with that kind of consideration.

Time and again I hear of stories about cases being dragged mostly for no valid reasons and the excuses from the bench at times seem shallow and without good grounds. People seek recourse to the courts for solutions to their problems and in any society, they are entitled to as a right. If these are going to be denied or impeded by the courts of our land then there is something chronically wrong with our court system.

In other words just like the guy who visited a magistrate at dawn to have his case going his way, do litigants have to seek various other questionable courses even approaching a bigwig of the community or a politician with a clout for the of extra-judicial intervention in the process of law?

The US Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger once noted: “A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people and three things could destroy that confidence and do incalculable damage to society: that people come to believe that inefficiency and delay will drain even a just  judgment of its value; that people who have long been exploited  in the smaller transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights from fraud and over-reaching; that people come to believe the law – in the larger sense – cannot fulfill its primary function to protect them and their families in their homes, at their work, and on the public streets.“

Now that the Civil War has come to an end, it is obligatory for the government to streamline the court system and ensure that there shall not be any cause for justice to be delayed and justice must travel along with power that is free from all corruptive elements and whatever that is powerful must be just.

This writer recommends what the District Judge M D Jeshuratnam did during his tenure of office at Mallakam. He ensured fair trial and justice for the litigants who went before him on the express track and his judgments bear that integrity and uprightness without question.