DIVERSITY - The Essence Of A Just Legal System

By Kiara Dsouza
Winner of Diversity Essay Scholarship

The Indian legal profession consists of over 1.4 million advocates, making it one of the largest in the world. However, diversity is still a major issue today. In this essay, I seek to argue for the claim that having a legal professional class (lawyers, judges, etc.) characterized by diversity of gender, caste, wealth status, language, and regional identity makes for a more just legal system. Diversity can function as a countermeasure to bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and the notion that the legal system consists of biases that favour certain groups while excluding others. This very notion, manifested in the minds of many members of society, undermines the rule of law which is the cornerstone of democracy.

Before we delve into examining the benefits of a diverse legal professional class, it is necessary to know how inclusive the legal profession is in reality.  In order for us to have diversity in the legal profession, institutions offering legal education must be inclusive and must accommodate students of different backgrounds. Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA), an initiative by the late Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer that seeks to provide opportunities to students from under-represented and marginalized groups to study law, surveyed first year students at various NLU’s across the country for the academic year 2018-19. The results were far from encouraging. There is a gross underrepresentation of minorities. For example, only 4% of the enrolled students belonged to the Muslim community. The representation of the north eastern states is abysmally low. Majority of the students belong to privileged urban backgrounds and have graduated from English medium schools. On the other hand, those from rural areas and in vernacular medium schools constituted a mere 3.4% of the surveyed students. An alarming number of students alleged discrimination, disparaging remarks against them as well as social stigma, inter alia because of their lack of fluency in the English language.

In Grutter vs Bollinger (2003) the United States Supreme Court noted that “access to legal education (and thus, the legal profession) must be inclusive of talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity, so that all members of our heterogeneous society may participate in the educational institutions that provide training and education necessary to succeed in America.” This reasoning can be extrapolated to India as well. The lack of diversity and representation of the under-privileged and the minorities is evident in the top tier law schools which often function as the gatekeepers to the elite layers of the legal profession and those who gain access to the upper echelons of this profession are often able to access a powerful social and political corridor. This is why diversity in legal academic institutions is necessary. Only then will it ensure that the power of the majority does not operate even unintentionally over the subordinate groups (Shamnad Basheer et al.) [Wilkins, Khanna, & Trubek, (Eds). (2017)].

We live in a diverse society. There isn’t just one race, one religion, one class, one gender, one language. As a result, the problems are also diverse. Therefore in order for the justice system to truly cater to the needs of all these different sections of society, it must be diverse in itself. If the legal professional class is dominated by one race, religion, gender, and so on, it would gradually result in the weakening of the position of those that are already marginalized, resulting in a further deterioration of their faith in the judicial system. One could argue that a lawyer or judge belonging to the majority is capable of being fair and just. While that may be the case, it is also a fact that subconscious biases exist. These are inherent within people as a result of their social conditioning. These deep rooted prejudices may not always be brought to the forefront. However, they are nearly impossible to eliminate. There will always be a possibility of outcomes being skewed in favour of the majority in the absence of a diverse legal system. It is this very possibility that often causes many to regard the legal framework with skepticism. It leaves a window open for the law to be misinterpreted and misused by those in the system belonging to the same homogeneous majority. As long as such windows exist, true justice remains a myth. Only when there is a diverse class of professionals, will people have faith that the laws are being made and administered fairly, keeping in mind the welfare of all sections of society.

Whether perceived as noble or untrustworthy, the legal fraternity requires people from all backgrounds in order to help their respective communities understand their rights, obligations and possibilities the Rule of Law can offer. It is of uttermost importance that the general populace believes that no matter how flawed the system may be, their fundamental rights will not be threatened by the majority. Diversity is not merely about percentages and numbers. It is a commitment; a commitment to be fair, inclusive and just.

However, the need for diversity transcends the public’s perception of the system. The quality of service provided and decisions taken increases in a diverse environment  Diversity makes for a more just legal system due to the fact that it enables people’s different backgrounds and experiences to be taken into consideration while framing laws and interpreting them. It provides a holistic approach to a problem, thereby diminishing the possibility of prejudice and it ensures that a variety of opinions, beliefs etc. are brought to the forefront and are reflected in a proposed solution. This perpetuates a safe environment for the workers where they are respected, their inputs are valued and their voices are heard.

The only way to ensure that justice is carried out in diverse countries such as ours is to have a diverse class of legal professionals who empathize with the sentiments of those they represent. While diversity is necessary in all professions, it is of utmost importance in the legal professional class. We need lawyers and judges who truly understand what inequality and discrimination is and what it feels like. Because it is this very class of citizens that serve as a voice to the general populace and work to ensure a just and fair society where the fundamental rights of each citizen are respected, where opportunities are available to people regardless of their gender, caste, creed, social status and so on, where their issues are dealt with seriously and where they feel that they are heard, valued and accepted.

"Justice may be blind, but we all know that diversity in the courts, as in all aspects of society, sharpens our vision and makes us a stronger nation"- William J. Clinton.