“No person employed in a public utility service shall go on strike in breach of contract–
- without giving to the employer notice of strike, as herein- after provided, within six weeks before striking; or
- within fourteen days of giving such notice;”
That was the first reaction from our class in Law School when the Professor read out this provision from The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. As usual we were advised to read the text again from our copies of the bare Act. This is a regular practice when it comes to reading most legal text, be it Moot Court problems or archaic laws in pristine English – you read it a couple of times before the words disentangle themselves and achieve a lucidity that will vanish if you come back to the text a few years later. Agreed, that going through textual content over and over is a prudent practice, but does that mean we spend valuable time literally interpreting legal provisions when we can devote that time to more productive purposes like coming up with creative arguments for a case?
The language in most of our legislation is like an exercise in enhancing literary abilities, considering the liberal use of punctuations and conjunctions to constitute a paragraph that could in itself be a short novel. Okay, might have exaggerated there a bit, not a short novel perhaps. But the legal jargon in an Act or any legal document is enough to put any student of Literature to shame. Complicated language and legal text are synonymous with each other; it seems that it is not meant to be comprehensible to the masses, but only to a few individuals masquerading as the well-read. It is like gazing into a shallow pond. If you gaze at it long enough, you will see the pebbles and weeds at the bottom. But such pond gazing alone does not get us anywhere. We need services that will deconstruct the meaning of what we see and apply it to practical circumstances.
This is where legal design steps in. Innovation and design in legal services is all about bridging the gap that exists between the written law and the people it is applicable to. It is not just the convoluted language that makes law appear complicated, but more often than not people would be completely unaware that they have specific rights which are being violated. For example, a married man with four kids would be willing to work for wages below the prescribed statutory remuneration, for longer hours, in a tannery just to keep his family off the brim of starvation, without ever knowing that this amounts to forced labour and there are laws to protect him.
What is the purpose of a law if the very people it seeks to protect do not know about its existence? For ages now, Law has created an illusion of elitism. Sure, we need lawyers to argue our cases, but does that mean that people from non-law backgrounds cannot discuss and understand , say, the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution or rights of an arrested person as given in the Code of Criminal Procedure? Quite recently, during a debate on a news channel, one of the panelists put this question to a party representative, “How can you talk about the Constitution when you are a Chartered Account?” But, think about it. Can the Constitution of India be a monopoly for lawyers and Judges to interpret and try to uphold? To put it simply, no. Law is for the masses, not just black letters in leather bound editions in chambers or tattered textbooks in Law school libraries. Ventures like Lawtoons and LawForMe aim at making the Law accessible and understandable to all, be it adolescents in school or adults from non-law backgrounds. The idea is to take law off the illusionary high mounted pedestal and make it seem less monstrous by removing its complexity of words and imparting its meaning to all concerned, so that next time you talk about your right to equality as enshrined in the Constitution, you do not have to flash your degree in Law to validate your claim.
 S.22 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
About the Author: Dona Mathew is a student of law with a penchant for human rights, the environment, travel, crime novels, 80s music and baking. She studies in her spare time and still hasn’t figured out the interpretation of s. 22 of the ID Act.