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Report No. 114

5.9. Apprehension against re-activation of Nyaya Panchayat.-

The model of new mechanism for resolution of disputes at grass-roots level was misdescribed as a Nyaya Panchayat of the earlier days. Serious reservations were voiced at a number of workshops organised by the Law Commission in different parts of the country against reactivation of Nyaya Panchayat which, it was said, in the prevailing atmosphere in the rural area was foredoomed to failure. The past experience has been one of lack of confidence in people's participation in administration of justice. Somehow or the other, popular participation in the administration of justice creates misgivings in the minds of the people other than those to whom such an opportunity has never been extended. The urban elite consider that administration of justice requires technical knowledge of law and those uninitiated in the knowledge of law cannot be entrusted with the task of administration of justice. 'Justice according to law' has been interpreted to mean 'justice rendered by those who know law'.

In other words, advanced knowledge of law is a pre-requisite for dispensation of justice. Scholars in the sociology of law have now recognised the requirement for non-specialised knowledge in order to render justice. Vilhelm Aubert after a detailed survey concluded that 'at least in Norway the pure legal model now played a reduced role in the organised resolution of conflicts'1. Once the assumption that knowledge of law is a prerequisite for rendering justice is shown to be unfounded, one can safely think of a better model of participatory justice. The knowledge of local traditions and customs and awareness of local interests would help in making lay participation in administration of justice effective.

The system of Jury is an apt illustration. People's participation in administration of justice may help in rejecting classical Marxist's assertion that the court is an instrument by which the dominant social class maintains its hold over the remainder of population. In fact, the relative absence of status differentiation between tribunal and disputants, the informality and the flexibility of the procedures, the social and physical proximity of the proceedings of the location of the dispute or the violation, enhance the effectiveness of the popular courts in reshaping the attitudes and behavioural patterns of workers and residents2.

Participatory ideology has two related objectives; firstly, to facilitate the involvement of the working classes and the rural peasantry in the processes of conciliation panels, so that they may thereby sharpen their awareness of the socialist policies and developmental programmes of the Government, and recognise how such policies may be applied towards the resolution of the social and inter-personal problems of the area. Secondly, through the articulation of these policies and goals in the processes of these panels to further reshape prevailing values and attitudes of the disputants and other members to the needs of a socialist society.

1. V. Aubert, "Law as a Way of Resolving Conflicts: The Case of a Small Industrialised Society" in: Law in Culture and Society, pp. 299-302.

2. Neelan Tirucholvam The Ideology of Popular Justice in Sri Lanka, p. 7.

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