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Ancient Judicial System

India has a unique legal history stretching back to the Neolithic era (7000 BC to 3300 BC) even before the early Vedic ages. There had been a Civil and Criminal adjudication protocol to follow that spanned from the Bronze Age to the Indus Valley Civilization. The proof may be found in ancient literature such as the Vedas, Smritis, Upanishads etc[1].

According to the Manu Smriti, the ancient Indian legal system states that there were about eighteen primary titles of law. Non-repayment of debt, line of credit, partnership business, resumption of gift, sale of an article by one other than its owner, non-payment of wages, breach of duty, responsibilities of wife and husband, partition of inheritance, etc.

A distinguishing aspect of Ancient Indian Law was that it was secular in nature and founded on the Dharma Principle (Natural Justice). At the time, the Indian population was used to the notion of living under the law and had court means to deal with civil and criminal issues.

According to the legal system of ancient Indian society's legal system, a ground of case emerges when an individual makes a complaint after being harassed in a way that violates the principles of Smriti and use. A typical judicial procedure consists of four parts: a petition, a response, proof, and a judgment. Responses are most likely of four types: confession, denials, special plea, and reference to a previous judgement. There are three forms of evidence mentioned: documentation, ownership, and witnesses[2].

Smritis in Ancient India highlighted the necessity for a competent judicial system to carry out Dharma-based justice, and it underlined that the King's prime duty was the administration of justice. The King was in charge of enforcing the rule of law, keeping people safe, and punishing evildoers.

Ancient India had the highest possible level of any antiquity in terms of the ability, acquiring knowledge, honesty, objectivity, and judicial independence, and these benchmarks have not been outperformed till today; that the Indian legal system consisted of a hierarchy of judges, with the Court of the Chief Justice at the top, and each higher Court being invested with the power to review the decisions of the lower courts[3].

Types Of Ancient Indian Courts

Katyayana Smrithi divides the courts into six categories based on their rank.

They are as follows:
  • The Kula (Family Councils or groups):
    A group of elderly people who educated members of the family how to handle conflicts inside the family or among families of similar background.
     
  • The Shreni (Trade or Professional Councils):
    An assembly of old and knowledgeable people who are recognized as unbiased among a group of traders, professionals, and craftsmen to arbitrate conflicts.
     
  • The Gana (Village Assembly):
    This was a huge gathering of village or grama elders who were regarded as knowledgeable, unbiased, and trustworthy by the people of the region.
     
  • Adhikrita (Court appointed by the King):
    These are all the courts recognized by the King to serve justice, with justices who are highly trained in the Shastras and Smrithis. This sort of court came in a variety of forms depending on its jurisdiction. They are Pratishtitha, which was founded in a certain village or town and Apratishtitha was a movable court that would convene in a given location to try a specific matter as summoned by the King and Mudrita was a higher-level court that had the authority to use the royal seal[4].
     
  • Sasita (Kings Court):
    This was the Kingdom's highest court of law. The King himself presided over it. To serve and support the King, there was a Chief Justice named Pradvivaka and a group of Judges named Sabhyas.
     
  • Nripa (King himself):
    The King was the Supreme authority in the legal judicial adjudication process, and he was governed by Dharma precepts that he could not contradict.

The Jurisdiction Of The Courts

With the exception of a violent offence, Kula, Shreni, and Gana may try all civil and criminal cases (Sahasa). A court named Adhikrita constituted by the King, will hear instances related to violence. The Sasita (King's Court) will determine on corporal punishments, but the King holds the final power and will finalise them.

A Kula ruling can be examined by the Shreni, and a Shreni decision can be examined by the Gana. Similarly, the Adhikrita courts can examine a Gana's judgement which follows a hierarchy of courts.

According to the Law Commission's Fourteenth Report[5], "though ancient writers have outlined a hierarchical system of courts as having existed in the distant past, the accurate framework that achieved cannot be conclusively proven with any concreteness; but afterward writings of writers like Narada, Brihaspati, and others appear to suggest that usual courts must have existed on a substantial level. Throughout the ancient Indian period, the hierarchy of courts was said to exist, with certain aspects of authoritarian hierarchy of appellate power over the courts beneath.

The Judges Of The Courts

The ancient scriptures include information about the method of recruitment and competence of the respective Judges. Yajanvalkya advises the Sovereign to choose as evaluators of his Court individuals who are well versed in professional legal literature, honest, and behaviourally capable of absolute impartiality between a friend and a enemy[6]. The Raja dharma advises the King to choose Judges who possess specific characteristics of quality inbuilt in them.

They are as follows: The judge should be I well versed in Vyavahara (laws governing court process) and Dharma (legislation on all subjects), a Bahushrutha (deep researcher), a Pramananjana (well intimately knowledgeable in the rules of evidence), (iv) a Nyayasasthrevilambinah (a responsible and law-abiding citizen), and (v) has fully studied the Vedas and Tarka (Logical reasoning).

Katyayana adds some further requirements for the temperament of a judge, stating that a King should choose a judge who is not harsh or cruel, delightful, kind, bright, and active, but not arrogant. According to the ancient scriptures, judges must be unbiased, autonomous, and courageous with a certain degree of bravery. The Smrithis and Sastras established Judges' lofty and honourable position in the administration of justice in the society.

Their courage, neutrality, and integrity, even when their conclusions go against the intentions of the King, are invaluable and a lesson to us. This concept of judicial freedom and independence was also obligatory on the King since the supremacy of Dharma was almighty, and law derived its legitimacy from the trust of the populace and the King in Dharma, in accordance with the statement 'Law is the King of Kings'[7].

As can be seen, the Smrithis established a clear and strong framework for a competent independent authority of the judiciary. Each Smriti underlines the predominance of judicial honesty. According to Shukra-nitisara, the king's selected judges should be wise, of excellent character and temperament, gentle in speech, impartial to friend or adversary, truthful, knowledgeable in law, active free from rage, greed, or evil desire and factually correct.

The Concept Of Lawyers

In ancient times, the notion of lawyers appearing for the parties and assisting the court was used. A Niyogi was an individual who was well experienced and knowledgable in the law and was appointed by a party to a lawsuit (Lawyer). Sukra Neetisara indicates that "the person authorised to represent a party in court was entitled to collect his pay to the extent of 1/16th, 1/20th, 1/40th, 1/80th, or 1/160th of the suit claim, and the payment should be indirectly proportional to the lawsuit[8].

The Court Proceedings
In ancient times, the courts followed a well-defined procedural framework. Anyone who has been harmed by the actions of others may file a Pratijna (complaint) to the court. Prati Vadin was known to be as the Defendant and Vadin as the Plaintiff. Dharma Kosa provides a description of the plaint as being succinct in words, abundant in meaning, clear, free of immaterial facts, empty of unsuitable reasoning and argumnets, accurate and not logically inconsistent, and it should include a purposeful request directed at the defendant of the respective case[9].

The Court fees were also levied, with the judgement debtor obligated to pay five percent of the lawsuit amount and the plaintiff obligated to pay an equivalent amount.The trial was carried out in compliance with Dharma sastras and in a way that guaranteed the litigants' and the public's trust in the court and judiciary. The burden of evidence and proof was placed on the individual who claims the wrongdoing or the so-called offence. The parties have the option of producing the witness.

The verdict was titled Jayapatra (document of triumph) since one side was to win the lawsuit:
  1. The Jayapatra should include a simple note of the plaint and the written statement;
  2. corroboration presented by the parties;
  3. framing and discussion of the issue;
  4. recognition of the sides' assertions;
  5. implementation of law;
  6. distinct viewpoints of the judges; (vii) ultimate decision; and
  7. the court's seal.
The judge should act in accordance with fairness, equality, and moral conscience while pronouncing the verdict.

The punishments were divided into several categories:
  1. Vagdanda: reprimand;
  2. Dhigdanda: condemnation;
  3. Dhanadanda: penalty;
  4. Angaccheda: mutilation; and
  5. Vadhadanda: capital punishment[10].
According to the Mahabharata, punishment preserves Dharma, Artha, and Kama. Dhanda Neeti is very well recognised in Sastras, and it was seen to be significant that even without the King and his authority to chastise offenders, ordinary people would have constantly been plagued by dread, insecurity, and threats to life and property[11]. It is uncommon to find people who are constantly pristine in all parts of their lives, and a deterrent has always been required to correct the offender.

Conclusion
The ancient knowledge of Indians was a face for today's legislators and the general public at large to look at. The alien tyranny that India had endured for decades had wreaked havoc on the racial, cultural, and economic enlightenment that India had witnessed in the olden days. The highly-developed legal framework and judiciary, which are firmly based on the Dharma concept, as well as the devout nature of the Indian people who adhere to the legal system, have enabled India to lead a prosperous judicial system[12].

For a civilization to progress, it requires a supportive system of peaceful living, which necessitates a proper and graft law and order system, as well as an active judiciary. As can be seen from the preceding discussion, the ancient judicial system established by India's great clairvoyants met all of the prerequisites for a secure and functional judiciary, and it was compatible with the modern system as well.

Bibliography
  • Ancient Judicial System, Dr. Dilip Kumar, Patna University, Patna
  • Historical Evolution of The Indian Legal System. Delhi: The Secretary, CBSE, Shiksha Kendra, 2, Community Center, Preet Vihar, Delhi-110301.
  • Kumar, Rajander, Concept of Judiciary in Ancient India. Global Research Services, no.2(2013): 80-82.
  • Olivelle, Patrik. 2018. Legal Procedure: vyavahara. In The Oxford History of Hinduism: Hindu Law, A New History of Dharmasastra, by Donald R. Davis, JR. Partrick Oivelle, 283-298. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dharma. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • McClish, Mark. King Rajadharma. In The Oxford History of Hinduism, edited by Patrik Olivelle, 264. Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Ancient Indian Jurisprudence: Juestice Markandey Katju, Judge, Supreme Court of India
  • Govind, Vijai. The Role Of Witnesses In The Ancient And The Modern Indian Judicial System.Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 15, no. 4, 1973, pp. 645656. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43950237.
  • Rama Jois , Seeds of Modern Public Law in Ancient Indian Jurisprudence (1990 En, Eastern Book Company) pp. 1-2.
  • B.M. Gandhi, Landmarks in Indian Legal and Constitutional History, page 6
  • Kumar, Concept of Judiciary in Ancient India, 80-82, Pratishtitha was established in village and town, Apartishtitha was a mobile court, and Mudrita was a higher court with the king's seal.
  • Law Commission's Fourteenth Report 1958.
End-Notes:
  1. Ancient Judicial System, Dr. Dilip Kumar, Patna University, Patna
  2. Historical Evolution of The Indian Legal System. Delhi: The Secretary, CBSE, Shiksha Kendra, 2, Community Center, Preet Vihar, Delhi-110301.
  3. Kumar, Rajander, Concept of Judiciary in Ancient India. Global Research Services, no.2(2013): 80-82.
  4. Kumar, Concept of Judiciary in Ancient India, 80-82, Pratishtitha was established in village and town, Apartishtitha was a mobile court, and Mudrita was a higher court with the king's seal.
  5. Law Commission's Fourteenth Report 1958
  6. Govind, Vijai. The Role Of Witnesses In The Ancient And The Modern Indian Judicial System Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 15, no. 4, 1973, pp. 645656. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43950237.
  7. Rama Jois , Seeds of Modern Public Law in Ancient Indian Jurisprudence (1990 En, Eastern Book Company) pp. 1-2.
  8. B.M. Gandhi, Landmarks in Indian Legal and Constitutional History, page 6
  9. Olivelle, Patrik. 2018. Legal Procedure: vyavahara. In The Oxford History of Hinduism: Hindu Law, A New History of Dharmasastra, by Donald R. Davis, JR. Partrick Oivelle, 283-298. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  10. Dharma. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  11. McClish, Mark.King Rajadharma. In The Oxford History of Hinduism, edited by Patrik Olivelle, 264. Oxford University Press, 2018.
  12. Ancient Indian Jurisprudence : Juestice Markandey Katju, Judge, Supreme Court of India

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