(Last Updated on : 24/06/2013)
Institution of Law has been narrated in details in the Agni Purana
, which includes law suits, and the procedure to be adapted by tribunals in adjudicating matters. It is said that a suit is determined by a reference to four things ('Chatuspada'), is adjudicated with the help of four factors ('Chatuh-Sadhana'), has its root in the four places ('Chatushthan am'), proves beneficial to four classes of men ('Chaturhita'), is connected with the four different parties ('Chaturvyapin') and benefits the society in a four-fold way ('Chatuskari'). Similarly a law suit involves the co-operation of eight persons ('Astanga') at the time of its trial, proceeds out of eighteen causes of actions ('Asat-dashapada'), is divided into hundred sub-divisions ('Shata-shakha'), and owes its origin to three different sources.
The judicial system or 'vyavahara' have been explained elaborately in chapters 254 to 258, excerpts of which have been incorporated from Manav Dharma Shastra. Agni Purana in the matters of law has said that a case or a law suit should be decided by referring to the codes of law (both moral and positive), to the usages of the established custom of a country, and also to the rules of good conscience, which constitute the four matters of reference.
A suit has its seat in truth, in rules of good conduct, and rests in the complainant ('Plaintiff'), the Defendant and the Witnesses ('Chatuh Sthanam'). The four factors which determine the adjudication of a legal case is amicable settlement, the collective decision of a community, the law, and the king's command (Chatush Sadhanam). The four members of society, such as the Brahmanas, the 'Kshatriyas
' and the 'Sudras
', are all benefited by the decision of a law-suit (Chaturhita), and since a law suit requires the presence of the complainant, the defendant, the king and the truthful witnesses, it is called the 'Chaturvyapinor' involving the four essential factors. And similarly, since the decision of a law suit affects the fame, property, marital status and the good conduct of a person, it is called the Chatuskari or as affecting a person in his four relations of the world.
A complaint is usually divided under two heads; according as a wrong or a mischief is apprehended or is actually done and happened. Apprehensions in their turn are again grouped into six sub-heads according to their mutual relation to one another, while actual wrongs are further sub-divided. The plaintiff and the defendant in a suit form its two doors. The plaintiff has the right to first address the court whereas the defendant is entitled to be heard in his reply. The two motions (Gati) of a law-suit should be deemed as consisting of ascertaining, whether a point at issue is true or false. The term debt includes the money, admitted by a person to be legally due from him, or denied by him to be at all due, or affirmed by him as having been given to him as a free gift or by way of performing a religious act.
God has also enumerated and described the hundred different branches of litigation ('Shatashakha'), which admits of such ramifications owing to the difference in men's individual habits and temperament. A king in the company of the wise men shall preside at a tribunal; and he shall never allow the consideration of any personal gain or greed to interfere with the administration of even-handed justice. The Jurors, who shall be elected to help the king with their opinion on legal matters, should be selected from among men who would make no difference between a friend and a foe, are well versed in the scriptural lore, are above all corruption, and are void of all greed. The Brahmanas
should be engaged to fill such posts, when such men would not be forthcoming.
It has been said that judges or jurors acting in direct contravention of the rules laid down in the codes of law ('Smriti') should be severally punished and be liable to a fine, double in value of what ought to be paid in a case of quarrel. A case consists in a complaint lodged by a person, handled in a way other than what had been sanctioned in the books of Smritis. The time, the month, and the day of the occurrence, as well as the name, the caste and the marks on the body of the complainant, should be recorded in the presence of the defendant, and likewise the statement of the defendant should be noted down in the presence of the complainant. Then the complainant should ask the court to settle the issues, and then lay before it the evidences by which he would prove his allegations. Success in a law-suit means the corroboration of one's statements before a competent tribunal and the establishment of the truth and justice of one's cause, whereas the reverse should be deemed as a failure. These are the four steps of a law-suit, as laid down by the lawmakers of old.
Crimes and their Punishment
A court should neither entertain, nor hear a cross-suit or a cross-case, without first deciding the original one, nor should it take up a case or a suit dismissed or rejected by another tribunal of competent authority. There were certain punishments against crimes committed by people, according to Agni Purana. Agni Purana has stated that if a Brahman had stolen gold, he must report the crime to the king immediately. Punishment of this theft was hitting the thief with a club, by the king. Such a reprimand was considered as a worthy redressal of the crime. If a person killed a kshatriya, his atonement was one-fourth less tough than that of killing a Brahman. The sin of a criminal killing a 'Vaishya' was one-eighth of the sin committed by killing a Brahman. Similarly, the atonement for killing a Sudra was one-sixteenth of the sin committed if a Brahman was killed. There was also a penal code for killing animals like cats, dogs, mongoose, frog, lizard or crow.
Likewise since a man resorts to a law court either through lust, anger or greed, they are known as the three sources' of litigation ('Triyoni'). Agni Purana in this chapter related to institution of law has tried to say that the proper conduct of the institution of law is very important in any society because it is law that keeps the society in absolute order.