Guarantee of equal justice will be rendered meaningless if the vulnerable sections cannot enforce their rights because of their poverty or illiteracy or weakness: Justice N.V. Ramana

In a democratic country like India, access to justice forms the bedrock of the rule of law, said Justice N V Ramana, the second senior most judge at the Supreme Court while addressing at an event here on Monday. 

Hon’ble Justice NV Ramana

The judge, who is next to become the Chief Justice of India, was speaking at an event where the Delhi State Legal Services Authority was celebrating 25 years of its inception and in pursuit of its objective Access to Justice for All and to further its vision of creating a justice delivery system that is accessible to the weak, down trodden and marginalized sections of the society which are often neglected and forgotten about. 

He further said, “Ever since we declared ourselves to be an independent nation, we found ourselves caught between the twin problems of ‘poverty’ and ‘access to justice’. The architects of modern India had debated this issue on several national and international platforms. Sadly, even after 74 years of independence, we are still discussing the same issue. One would have expected that, in this fast-paced world, topics such as these would have become outdated, however they have not.”

“Being the second most populous country of the world, we are now a force to be reckoned with. Indians, with their grit, determination, intelligence and expertise are now highly sought after in the work-force. On the other side of this success story, we are still a country with millions of people living without access to basic fundamental amenities of life, including access to justice. Although the reality is sad, the same should not de-motivate us.” He emphasized that, “As long as we are a nation which continues to face such dual realities, such discussions must continue,” said the top court judge while addressing the gathering. 

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ramana during the event, recollected an earlier incident during his tenure as the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court: “I remember once, during my tenure as the Chief Justice of the Delhi High, during an event, an old lady waiting in the court premises asked me, when will you put a cap on lawyer’s fees? I responded, “Madam, the Court cannot control these things”. She asked me back, then “Sir, tell me how people like us can even come to the courts?” This is where legal aid assumes great importance. When people cannot reach us, we should reach them. I would take this opportunity to remind all my lawyer friends, that you are the successors of our founding fathers such as Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. Never forget your duty towards your society. Please listen to those whose voice is the weakest in society, and understand the plight of those who cannot afford legal fees. Extend a helping hand whenever you can! I believe that all lawyers should attempt to do some pro-bono work in order to give back to society and serve the people.”

This year also marks the 25 years since the establishment of NALSA. Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ramana said that India is probably the only country where the “means test” is not applicable to the certain categories. In India, Women, children, persons in custody, Sc& ST, victims of disaster, amongst other, are entitled to free legal aid irrespective of their income/means. Justice Ramana said that Legal Services Authorities cater for more than 70% of the population who are entitled for free legal aid. He further said that this makes the Indian Legal Aid system one of the largest Legal Aid systems in the world in terms of the percentage of people entitled to free legal aid.

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ramana elaborated that around 48,227 panel lawyers are empanelled with the Legal Services Authorities throughout India, to provide necessary legal services.  It was also highlighted during his speech that Legal Services Authorities have also engaged pro-bono lawyers, which include many senior lawyers. Till now, 3175 pro-bono lawyers are empanelled at the District level, 437 at High Court level and 86 at the Supreme Court level.

In Court based legal services, NALSA has recently introduced Legal Aid Defense Counsel System on pilot basis  in which legal aid lawyers exclusively deal with legal aided cases. The framework has been devised in a manner as to ensure quality legal aid.

Highlighting the same, Justice Ramana said that “for strengthening legal services, we at NALSA have envisaged a scheme for providing legal aid to accused persons in criminal matters, called the Legal Aid Defence System.  This office has been established by Delhi State Legal Services Authority at South West District, Dwarka Courts as a Pilot Project for providing legal aid in criminal matters in Sessions Courts. Under this scheme, lawyers are exclusively engaged on full-time basis, for conducting legal aid cases in Sessions Courts. This scheme is to be implemented in 17 districts across the country on a pilot basis for two years. Around 1600 cases have been handled by the Legal Aid DefenseCounsel System during the year 2020 alone” .

Regarding Legal Services Outreach activities, Justice Ramana said that during the period November, 2019 to February, 2021, 2.35 lakh awareness programmes were organised which were attended by more than 3.02 crores persons.  In the year, 2020 itself approximately 15.69 lakh women participated in outreach programmes; 2.71 lakh tribal people attended the legal outreach programme; Around 27.2 lakh children were reached through legal services outreach tools. He further said that Legal Services Authorities have been using various tools for spreading legal awareness. The year 2020 witnessed the increased use of Radio, TV and digital platforms including social media for spreading legal awareness. 

Highlighting the legal Services rendered through Legal Services Clinics, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ramana said that more than 10 lakh people were provided legal assistance during the period from November, 2019 to February, 2021 through Legal Services Clinics.

NALSA has being focussing on upgrading front offices to work as One Stop Centres. A single point establishment for multiple services, the front office is expected to provide all facilities to legal aid seekers under one roof and at a single location. Justice Ramana said that around 1170 Front Offices are operational across India, through which more than 1,46,000 persons were provided legal aid and assistance during the year 2020

Justice Ramana also highlighted the work being done on ADR front. He said that with respect to ADR mechanisms, particularly Lok Adalats, Legal Services Authorities have developed the capacities to organise pan India National Lok Adalats.  Since, November, 2019 to February, 2021, approximately 49,04,089 cases were disposed of which includes 26,89,659 pending cases.

Regarding implementation of Victim Compensation Schemes, Justice Ramana said that from November, 2019 to February, 2021, Rs. 218.81 crore was awarded as compensation to the victims. 

Justice Ramana also praised Legal aid Institutions in working tirelessly during pandemic. He said that inorder to ameliorate the situation, a broad range of legal services have to be provided to the needy, including victims of domestic violence, daily wagers, tenants, undertrials, convicts and migrants. He said that the plight of the migrants did not go unnoticed by the Legal Services Authorities, assistance was provided to 57,79,546 migrants in coordination with the District Administration

Justice Ramana also elaborated on legal services being provided to suspects and arrestees. He said that in the year 2020 itself, legal assistance was provided at the remand stage to 76,087 arrested persons. 

Justice N.V Ramana further said that as a roadmap for the future, the Legal Services Authorities are focussed on developing an accessible mechanism to redress violation of rights and empowering the people through legal services and legal awareness.

The event was also graced by the presence of Hon’ble Mr. Justice D.N. Patel, Chief Justice, High Court of Delhi, Patron-in-Chief of DSLSA, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vipin Sanghi, Judge, High Court of Delhi and Executive Chairperson, DSLSA along with other Hon’ble Judges of High Court of Delhi, Principal District and Sessions Judges of all 11 districts of Delhi , Principle Judges of Family Courts, District Judges (Commercial Courts) and other Judicial Officers.

Addressing the gathering, Justice D N Patel said, “I am delighted to be a part of the 25 years celebration of the DSLSA. The basic concept of legal aid have seen many changes in 25 years.” 

“Concept originally was to provide legal aid in matter of courts. Nowadays pre litigation legal aid is also there. During court proceedings, there shall definitely be legal aid. I wish much more success to the DSLSA. Since, I took oath I have attended many seminars and I am happy to say that Delhi is always at the top,” said Chief Justice D N Patel. 

The Delhi High Court Chief Justice while concluding his address said, “We were only providing one lawyer initially but nowadays a lot of monitoring is taking place and now a days we provide a team of lawyers including Chief counsel, a researcher etc as defence.”
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