25 Jan 2008

Law Commission of India: A silent but diligent worker

Alright, I confess. This is not a particularly contemporary topic. Nonetheless I write upon it because it Law Commission has been an essentially active player of legal reform in India, though it has not been given that same level of prominent as ought to have received for the works it has done. So here I seek to entail the various tasks performed by it and the role it has played in reshaping Indian legal diaspora.

To being with the historical context of the present day Law Commission, one is surprised to find that this scheme of having a commission (though thought to be temporary but one having attained permanence) to examine and analyze not only the provisions of the existing laws but also to look into the fact of emerging issues with a critical view directed towards reform of the system. With time though the name has continued, the institution has seen a wide variance and as far as India is concerned, the roots of the present day system go back more than three centuries when ad hoc institutions were set up under the Royal Charter to examine into
various issues surrounding law and its administration but then the first such institution was established in 1834 under the Royal Charter. This first Commission is accredited with the seminal work of Indian Penal Code, which saw the light of the day in 1860 and has still carried on the bulk of criminal law legislation for India, without showing any signs or age. It is true that some sections of the Code have been removed to be enacted as separate Acts but then the bulk of original structure has stayed and continues to guide the Indian judiciary.

Indian Evidence Act, Civil Procedure Code, Transfer of Property Act, Indian Contract Act, Indian Trusts Act are some of the prominent and continuing legislations enacted on the recommendations of the succeeding commissions. These seminal works and their time-tested success impressed the newly formed Government of India after independence that it decided to continue with the tradition and finally a Law Commission was established for India in 1955 headed by the then Attorney General M.C. Setalvad (his book titled "My Life, law and other things" is a worth read for any aspiring law student seeking to emulate skills at the Bar).

The first law commission in a short period of three years submitted 14 reports, most on really important and business-shaping provisions. Thereafter we have had sixteen more law commissions (so the temporary permanence tradition has continued), all headed by illuminated legal luminaries all in all which have released 201 reports till 2006. [click here for the entire list] Some of these have been really good ones (though woefully all of them have not been implemented and given full effect to) and have sought to mould the existing legal and consequent societal framework in the country. To name a few of my personal favourites, I would list the following;

  • 20th : Law of Hire Purchase (1961) [though the Act on Hire Purchase was passed based upon this report, surprisingly it was never notified and therefore never came into effect. If my understanding is correct, I believe that this Act has lately been repealed as well.]
  • 29th : Proposal to include certain social and economic offenses in the IPC (1966) [a really interesting piece on how punishment affects social behaviour]
  • 35th : Capital Punishment (1967) [a must read for all criminal law buffs; an interesting account of an interplay between various theories of punishment and criminology]
  • 49th : The proposal for inclusion of Agricultural income in the total income for the purpose of determining the rate of tax under the Indian Income Tax Act, 1961 (1972) [though this proposal has not been implemented till date]
  • 57th : Benami Transactions (1973) [which changed the Indian financial landscape]
  • 63rd : The Interest Act, 1839 (1975) [which lead to a new Interest Act of 1978]
  • 76th : Abitration Act, 1940 (1978) [which came to be implemented in about two decades with the 1996 Act on Arbitration and Conciliation]
  • 108 : Promissory Estoppel (1984) [a good read overall and nice insight into the Transfer of Property Act]
  • and many others ...

The Eighteenth Law Commission (and the present one) was instituted in 2006 under the Chairmanship of Justice Dr. A.R. Lakshmanan (one of the few judges before whom I have had the privilege of appearing and have sweeter outcomes as well). It has got an extensive work frame and mandate but then I am sure it would not be a huge task given the level of erudite scholarship which goes into the functioning of the Commission.

With time, the Law Commission has got its own website [click here for the website] and maintains an impressive content of all reports right from day one of the Commission post-independence. It even carries a link to explain how the Law Commission works and is an interesting insight it offers. I really admire the motto of the institution "Reforming the Law For Maximising Justice in Society and Promoting Good Governance under the Rule of Law" which I believe does reflect the spirit with which it has been working heart and soul to uplift the face of legal understanding in the country and committed towards improving the framework within which we operate and perspire.

It has even started running an internship programme and I believe an internship with the Law Commission is really a worth while opportunity for a grooming law student to gain meaningful insight and learn the approach towards examining legislation and working the way through them. The views of couple of my friends who have already have had the opportunity to intern with the Commission has really strengthened this understanding of mine and I am sure the present day law students would really look forward to atleast one engagement with the Commission.

I am personal fan of the work which the Commission has been doing and really salute it for the pioneering effort it has been doing and is committed to continue with reforming the law, legal scholarship and even the legal institutions.

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