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Visiting Scholar Traces Change in Indian Legal System

September 02, 2010

The wheels of justice turn slowly in India, a function of its teeming population, a relatively small number of courts and delay tactics that attorneys commonly employ, Marc Galanter said during a public talk at the law school on Aug. 31.

And while Indians consider their society unusually litigious, civil court usage is actually among the lowest in the world, said Galanter, the leading American expert on the legal system in the South Asian nation.

The John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law and South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Galanter’s talk was sponsored by the Drexel Law Review and the University of Pennsylvania’s South Asia Center and Center for the Advanced Study of India.

Galanter is the author of a recent symposium issue of the Drexel Law Review, “Perspectives on Fundamental Rights in South Asia,” that marked the launch of the Law and South Asian Studies Section of the Association of American Law Schools. He also chairs the new section.

Possessing an acclaimed constitution, an “inventive activist judiciary” and “a capable bar,” India has the components of an effective legal system, Galanter said.

But because of extreme bottlenecks, Indians look to the nation’s high courts or bypass the civil court system through tribunals or unofficial avenues for dispute resolution sponsored by non-governmental organizations.

“The boundary line between what’s official and what’s not tends to be vague,” Galanter said.

Given the forces of globalization, Galanter said, current law students are well advised to learn about the system, because “by the time you’re late in your legal careers, you’ll be dealing with a lot of Indian lawyers.”