You can take the lawyer out of a journalist, but not the other way round. So when a lawyer writes a book that encompasses such varied subjects as the rights of pet owners, price of bottled water, cap on hospital bills for Covid treatment, the ineffective ban on plastics and, so on, it is easy to spot the journalist donning the legal robe to highlight issues that directly affect the public.
In his book High and Law, Sanjay Pinto, an advocate with the Madras High Court, unclutters the labyrinth of legalese so that the common man can put the law to effective use in his daily life. For this, Pinto digs deep into his previous avatar as a television journalist, where public interest was paramount. So his topics cover laws on education, medicine, municipalities, environment, motor vehicles, property and many more, in a bid to educate the public on the effective use of our laws.
Short changing customers
In the process he also highlights how institutions such as banks, NBFCs and insurance companies often short change customers with vague and unilateral terms and conditions (often in fine print). For example, he points out how Clause 5B of the SBI’s internet banking states that “the customer agrees not to hold the bank responsible or liable for “any loss as a result of compromise of User-ID and password by the User himself, or if the User has failed to follow the Internet Banking Service instructions.” Pinto rightly asks who would determine compliance by the user and loopholes caused by the bank. Further, such terms and conditions could violate the Contracts Act or the Consumer Protection Act as it treads on the consumer’s right to consent.
Another pertinent point Pinto discusses is the question of vicarious liability – to what extent can a service provider like Swiggy or Ola be held responsible for misbehaviour of the delivery agents or drivers? “A cab driver has to land outside our gate. A food delivery boy has to come to our door. The nature of the transaction calls for higher security clearance,” Pinto argues, pointing out how inadequate the background checks being carried out by companies providing these services are. “Apps must show due diligence in their processes to fix accountability,” he asserts.
An entire chapter is devoted to the pandemic and its aftermath, with the author questioning the (failed) collective conscience of the society – the hefty bills of private hospitals for treating Covid patients, selling spurious masks and gloves and medicines to make a fast buck, denying dignity during the final rites of a Covid victim, non-compliance of Covid protocols, and most importantly the reluctance to get vaccinated.
Pinto is equally unsparing of his present work place – the judiciary. In the chapter Procedural Law, he comes down hard on judicial delays about cases dragging on for years and suggests strict time management as in the US courts. To battle the practice of repeated adjournments, he suggests a reasonable cap on adjournments, imposing costs and giving shorter dates so that justice is not inordinately delayed.
What about Whatsapp?
The writer also devotes a lot of space to discuss aspects of consumer law and media law. On Whatsapp administrators facing criminal action for a group member posting an offensive comment or media without their knowledge. Pinto clearly explains that the administrators are not intermediaries. The intermediary in this case is clearly Whatsapp under the IT Act. He quotes a Delhi High Court observation to justify this:
“To make an Administrator of an online platform liable for defamation, would be making the manufacturer of newsprint on which the defamatory statements are published liable for defamation.” In the same vein Pinto cautions administrators to be vigilant by not abdicating their responsibility. They should flag rumours and reprimand members who post offensive content and remove such posts or members from the group.
Though over 500-pages-long, the book makes for immersive reading due mainly to the variety of subjects it discusses. It is backed by extensive research by the author, who has delved deep into various Supreme Court and High Court judgements, to make every topic relevant. Any student of law and college of law must keep this book as a ready reckoner.
(The reviewer is a Chennai-based senior journalist)
High and Law
by Sanjay Pinto
555 Pages, Rs 950
Check out the book on Amazon here