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Classroom & Courtroom

Current Affairs, Students, Teachers,

“What you’re going to learn in classrooms and from your books, exams & legal research, endless law assignments  is going to be entirely different from what happens in courtrooms.”

That’s something that I’ve heard quite a few times, from multiple people, during and after law school. It was quite evident when one of the concepts I’d learnt in criminal law during legal writing and analysis of a paper was blatantly disregarded in a certain set of cases. And that was the differentiation between compoundable and non-compoundable offences. 

After all my legal research, I’d learnt that in some crimes, a compromise could be arrived at. The parties could come to an agreement where the accused pays compensation to the victim and avoids going to jail. This was allowed by law. But that’s only applicable in cases where the crime isn’t too serious. These are compoundable offences.

Non-compoundable offences, on the other hand, are the ones where a compromise between parties is not an option. The state has to prosecute the accused and upon finding him guilty, has to, as a matter of law, punish him. Serious crimes like rape, murder, attempt to murder, etc. fall under this category. 

To my surprise, I soon came across a rape case taken up by one of my senior lawyers where a compromise was arrived at between the parties. Confused, I asked around how that was possible. I approached the ma’am who was defending the accused; all these years of legal research was at stake after all!

“How’s it possible,” I asked, “that a compromise has been arrived at in a non-compoundable offence, and that, too, rape?”

Her head was buried in her phone, her double-chin prominently visible in thick folds. She probably didn’t hear me, so I asked again. She looked up for a second and then looked into her phone again.

“It’s possible,” she carelessly responded.

“But…how?”

“The victim simply says nothing happened and denies all charges,” she said, without looking up. 

But that wasn’t enough for me; after having had the legal training of at least five years, I had in law school, I had questions about practical situations like these. How was this so simple? Wouldn’t this piss the judge off? Because then, that would mean that either the police who recorded the statement was lying or the victim who filed the complaint made a false allegation. Wouldn’t the judge prefer to punish one?

I asked her that.

“No,” she said. 

“But…why?” I persisted.

She looked up at me, square in the face. “That’s just the way it is,” she said, her face expressionless.

“But, then,” I went on, “the burden on the judiciary is already a problem widely being discussed. There are so many cases being filed every day. So if the judge just decides to punish such cases of malicious prosecution, wouldn’t people be incentivised not to file groundless cases?”

“That has never happened,” she said, beginning to get irritated. “This is just the way it is.”

That was it. I understood that I shouldn’t ask any further questions nor give this much thought. 

It wasn’t just theory we learnt in college during legal research for projects and law assignments that we were supposed to forget but also intellectual curiosity that we were supposed to kill, before stepping into court. It would seem that a lot of advocates learn a process and then familiarise themselves with it thoroughly because of repetition. Soon, they tend to confine their practice to it and avoid venturing into new territories or even bringing changes to the already existing body of knowledge they deal with. The legal research and legal writing we did in law school were different from what the reality of the profession was.

It was because of this that there can never be conformity between what is taught to us and what really happens. We learn idealistic laws and their interpretations. Advocates don’t necessarily work towards their rightful implementation; nor do they have an incentive to do so. This could partially explain the disparity between theory and practical situations – the lack of incentive to bring the theory to life and make further progress in the field of law.

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