In 1933, the British House of Lords affirmed its view that "poverty is a misfortune for which the law cannot take any responsibility at all." In 1986, Justice Bhagwati, Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court, described the ftinction of a Supreme Court, in relation to poverty and oppression, in a somewhat different vein:
The judges in India have asked themselves the question: Can judges really escape addressing themselves to substantial questions of social justice? Can they simply say to litigants who came to them for justice and the general public that accords them power, status and respect, that they simply follow the legal text when they are aware that their actions will perpetuate inequality and injustice? Can they restrict their enquiry into law and life within the narrow confines of a narrowly defined rule of law? Does the requirement of constitutionalism not make of greater demands on the judicial function?
The history of litigation in the Indian Supreme Court throughout the past ,decade has demonstrated that the answer to all of the above rhetorical questions has been a clear and unambiguous no, the Judges cannot. Throughout the 1980s, whenever a citizen of India has come to the Indian
Dr. Jeremy Cooper, Poverty and Constitutional Justice: The Indian Experience, 44 Mercer L. Rev. 611 (1993).