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Speedy Justice

     No function of sovereignty was considered by the law-givers of old (the niti and artha-shastra-kars) to be of greater importance than justice. The ease with which aggrieved persons could approach the Raja and the readiness with which he protected the innocent and punished the guilty constituted the principal test to be applied to an administration. This conception became so rooted in the Hindu mind that Rajas vied with one another in making themselves accessible to complainants and in dealing with them impartially. To be known as “the just”, “unjust” became the most stinging abuse that could be flung at a sovereign.

     Various considerations compelled a Raja often to delegate this function to others. He had neither the time nor the energy personally to listen to every plaint and enquire into the facts before he adjudicated upon it. Nor was it fair to compel litigants from the four corners of his kingdom to repair to the capital to secure the redressing of their wrongs. Officials therefore had to be employed to assist the king in the performance of this function.

     Through such means the Raja might lighten his burden: but he could not thereby rid himself of responsibility. In the degree in which his deputies fell short of the highest standart of equity, they exposed him to the contumely of the world. Injustice upon the part of his agents was counted as a dereliction upon his part, the gravity of which could not be overlooked.

     Before Bhagvatsinhji came into power he had made up his mind to conform to the highest standards laid down in this respect by the ancient law-givers. He had determined that justice should not only be even-handed but also speedy-that it should be available at the doors of his people.

     Bhagvatsinhji’s tour in England, prior to his investiture, had made him all the more eager to carry out these ideals. Despite his admiration for things English, he was critical of the English system of dispensing justice. A visit to the Law Courts in London made him write:

            “The building appeared to me to be rather intricate…appropriately so, perhaps, to be in keeping with the mazes of the law! It is a good hint to those who are too litigiously inclined! It is easy to enter it: but to come out safe and successful is both doubtful and difficult.”

     The fault, he thought, lay “not so much with the people as with the procedure, which is tardy, and often drags a weary length of time.” Human laws, he moralized,

           “…however minutely and elaborately drawn up, will always be imperfect. They should be the means of giving not mere justice, but justice in the simplest way possible.”

     So far as he was personally concerned, he would leave “ a good deal to the wise discretion of the judges, who should be men of tried honesty and integrity, and well worthy of confidence.” This remark deserves to be noted since it was made when he stood upon the threshold of power.

     Trail by jury appealed to him and he urged the adoption of that system in India. The numberless castes into which his countrymen were divided and sub-divided, he thought, “might be utilized as auxiliaries in deciding civil cases at least.”

     It would be easy to take such action, since every caste, generally speaking, had

           “…a council of five headmen with a patel or president, to check all sorts of irregularities among the members of the community. The office of the president is in some cases hereditary and in others elective. In former times his power was great, but now only traces of it are discernible.”

            “If a new lease of power were granted to the different castes in conformity with the altered state of circumstances, if the councils elected by the members of different castes were recognized by the Government, and if these councils were authorized to try certain civil and criminal cases, I think, the work of administering justice would be greatly facilitated, litigation would be very much reduced, and the dispensation of justice would be cheap and speedy.

            “The power would only be exercised when both the parties belonged to the same caste. Should the parties belong to different castes, then the old indigenous system of panchayat of arbitration might be profitably made use of. This would be a great step towards the much-talked-of local self-government.”

     In translating into actually the ideals he had formed so early in life, Bhagvatsinhji wisely decided to call to his aid men of education and character. Hardly had he taken over the reins of administration when he began to fill each vacancy that occurred in the Judiciary or each new post he created, with men who had a degree obtained in law from a university. He did not deviate from that principle even in the few cases in which he appointed men descended from the same clan as himself to judicial posts. It took years to bring about the change: but he did not rest satisfied until the whole judicial fabric had been renovated. He did not find it feasible, in actual practice, to revive the panchayat system, but devised other means to achieve his object.

     Mr. T. P. Sampat, who occupies the highest position in the department, is a brilliant law graduate of the Bombay University. He is highly respected for his quickness of comprehension of facts and for keeping himself posted with the judgments of the High Courts in British India and the Judicial Committee of His Majesty’s Privy Council. In the early years it was necessary to maintain a Bhayati Court for the adjudication of disputes in which the Bhayats were, in one way or another, in-evolved. It was almost immediately amalgamated with the office being in charge of both posts. As the Judiciary is now composed, it consists of the Courts of First Instance and those exercising revision or appellate authority usually in addition to Original Jurisdiction.

     Application for appeal, revision or review, must be filed within 30 days. To ensure speedy justice His Highness has ruled that every original case, be it civil or criminal, must be disposed of within a period of six months from the date it is filed other complaint is laid. In cases of a complicated character where delay is unavoidable, subordinate courts must such application. The first Appellate Court is similarly required to dispose of appeals within three months form the date of entry. Every Judge, civil or criminal, must deliver his judgment at the latest within ten days after hearing the arguments in behalf of the parties is concluded.

     The Huzur Court disposes of all cases, civil or criminal, within one month after they are filed and delivers judgment the day following the one on which arguments are concluded. Execution against movable property must be completed within five months of the pronouncement of judgment and that against immovable property within six months. While refusing to interfere with the course of justice, Bhagavat Sinhji has never shirked his duties as the final court of appeal. He looks upon that function as not so much a prerogative with him as an obligation laid upon him by his dharma (religion). Any complainant may approach him any day of the year and in emergent cases, even at night. The dare not prevent the poorest peasant o laborer stand in the way of a person seeking an interview with the Ruler.

     It is a case of first come, first seen. If an humble cultivator precedes a minister, the minister must wait until the Thakore Sahib has finished talking with the farmer. If His Highness could have his own way he would sacrifice the revenue that he derives through the judiciary and would have all quarrels settled amicably rather that have them dragged through one or more courts. He would not have the least compunction in depriving the lawyers of the income they obtain from their clients because he would not only save expense and worry to the simple villagers but also help to revive the panchayat system which, in the old days, worked efficiently to promote quiet and contentment in the country-side.

     Legal assistance has also tended to become costlier as His Highness has insisted upon permitting only qualified men to practice in his courts. Pleaders and mukhtears must satisfactorily undergo a test in law and procedure prior to being granted a license.

     The laws current in the State are:

            “…virtually the adoption of the laws of British India. There are some special and local laws enacted but they are comparativelyfew.”

Sir Bhagvatsinhji

The Maker of Modern Gondal



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