Everyone should know law being a responsible citizen
Mahadeep Singh Jamwal
The taglines of the article are the words of Honorable Chief Justice for common courts of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh High Court spoken at an awareness programme held on “Expanding Horizons of Access to Justice and Role of Legal Services Authorities”. The words of Chief Justice carry us to the core principle of the modern legal system that ignorance of law is no excuse. We can’t defend our actions by arguing we didn’t know they were illegal. No lawbreaker can be heard to say that he/she was not aware of the law. Provided the law is published in writing. In compliance with this requirement, primary legislation (statutes) and secondary legislation (rules, regulations, notifications, governmental orders etc.) are traditionally published in the Gazette, which is an official publication of the Government. The principle has some intuitive appeal; if ignorance of law were an excuse, every lawbreaker would invoke it, and the law would lose its deterrent value. A duty is cast on individuals to educate them about the law. Once the law is published, however, the citizen is deemed to know it. To demand regular and updated knowledge of law from citizens spanned over to more than 130 crore population is to demand the impossible. In India, the 2011 census guidelines defines a literate as a person above the age of seven years who can read and write with understanding in any language. We take education through the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, values, morals, habits, and beliefs. So there is no doubt that to be aware with any publication in the Government Gazette about any primary legislation (statutes) and secondary legislation (rules, regulations, notifications, governmental orders etc.) one must be educated to acquire knowledge of such publications.
Here we can argue that those who are illiterate or otherwise not equipped with the know-how to find, read and understand the law, and to whom even the most well-published law is inaccessible, how they are to be treated? Neither are the educated always in a position to stay updated with the law.
A cursory knowledge about prevailing laws in India updates us that there are 5 types of legal system i.e. civil law, common law, customary law, religious law and mixed law. Indian Penal Code sub-divided into 23 chapters has 511 sections, and 839 Central Laws (As per the online repository hosted by the Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India) as on July 2022 excluding many state laws for each state. Our drafted laws are the outcome of Legislature of the Union, which is called Parliament, consisting of the President and two Houses, known as Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and House of the People (Lok Sabha) are in such a web of lawful lexicon that it makes even harder for the layperson to understand them. Therefore, to desist from the hammer that ‘ignorance of law is no excuse’ every lay person then has to hire a lawyer to regularly understand and stay updated with the laws. Is it possible, it is a million dollar question and plainly speaking never possible? It is a principle of natural justice that no person shall be condemned under a law which he was not made aware of.
Under these circumstances, we have to ponder upon, how we can make every citizen spanned over a population of more than 130 crores, aware of laws and to keep them updated about any such provisions handed down from Parliament or any state legislature, and even District Magistrates (in their jurisdiction) and Apex Court judicial decisions that are inaccessible in ordinary course to common citizen (Article 141 of the Constitution stipulates that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all Courts within the territory of India.
Thus, the general principles laid down by the Supreme Court are binding on each individual including those who are not a party to an order, makes Supreme Court judgments binding as law) whose violation can land them behind the bar or subject them to unpleasant consequences.
Here comes the dire need of educating the citizenry about the legal world that will help to promote consciousness of legal culture in a common man. This is because laws exist as part of a larger organizational set up in the society. But how, it is a matter to be taken care of by the government and we can look towards the legal fraternity for suggesting the ways and means. Legal awareness, sometimes called public legal education or legal literacy, is the system of sensitizing the individuals that helps them to promote consciousness of legal culture and to the adaptability of the rule of law to make a society crime free.
We can rely for public legal education on a number of tools to achieve this objective such as: conducting seminars, lectures and by way of distribution of pamphlets. We can think of the Television world to create engaging, interesting and influencer content on law to educate the viewers about the legal world. Television (TV) is the largest media platform in India, both in terms of reach, as well as consumer engagement in terms of time spent. The government can make it mandatory for media platforms to broadcast at least a half hour bulletin both in the morning as well as in the evening to aware the viewers regarding the various laws and daily development on new laws and Apex Court judgments’. The Ministry of Law, Justice We can think of constituting ‘Legal Awareness Committees’ to interact with common people, with retired fraternity from Police and Revenue department on committees panel that have the ability not of awareness only but also well versed with the Law. We can think of mobile multi-utility vehicles to create legal awareness. We can think of displaying boards and hoardings at Strategic locations in public places that can help the public to understand the spirit of law.