Access to legal helpline

Litigation has become expensive and unaffordable for poor people. It is a complicated and time consuming system because it is comprehensive in nature. There is pressure on judicial functionaries. They cannot cope with the quantum of work they are required to dispose off. But it is the duty of the Government that people who cannot afford the luxury of litigation should not be deprived of justice. It is not compatible with the concept of welfare state.
The Chief Justice of India, Justice P. Sathasivam has broken the ice and made some pragmatic suggestions of enabling ordinary and poor people to gain access to legal help. We know we have enormous pendency in the courts of law but at the same time, the number of young and enthusiastic persons taking to legal profession is also increasing simultaneously. The Chief Justice has suggested that 24-hour legal assistance should be made available in cases of heinous crimes like rape. The instances of rape and gang rape of innocent women including minor girls not only in villages or towns but shamefully in premier cities and metropolitans has rocked the entire Indian nation right from the unfortunate day on which a female physiotherapist of Delhi was gang raped in a moving bus.
Extending legal aid to the needy and deserving is not an obligation on the recipients; it is the social entitlement of people. Society has the right to ask for the performance record of the lawyers. Providing adequate incentive to young lawyers and establishing legal aid camps would go a long way in meeting the legal advice deficit of the people. Other suggestions of the CJ like spreading legal literacy and awareness among the people.
The CJ has made a very interesting suggestion. He believes that weekly visits of lawyers and legal practitioners to the prisons for rendering legal assistance to under trials, convicts, juveniles and child internees would be in fitness of things to mete out justice to them. They are part of society and the state has an obligation of do all it can to take recourse to corrective measures. In fact the Chief Justice has written to the State High Courts that they should ensure weekly visits of judicial functionaries to the prisons where they would be interacting with the convicts. This could also be an exercise of knowing the conditions in prisons in which the convicts are supposed to live during trial. The lawyers are also encouraged to pay visits to the reformation homes where corrective methodology is employed to transform the convicts. These visits have to be like visits to old-age homes to see for themselves the prevailing conditions.
There are other suggestions also. The point is that legal assistance should not remain a prerogative of only the people who can afford. Owing to complicated and time consuming judicial system that we have, people generally want to avoid litigation even if it means surrendering some of their rights and inflicting oppression and deprivation on one’s self. Such are the rigours of litigation. It is found that only in extreme and unavoidable situations people take to last resort of going to a court of law. This is what the judges of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India know very well. In the process people unable to seek intervention from the court of law are forced to surrender their rights and accept injustice and oppression by default. This must have been in the mind of the Chief Justice when he made the suggestions of bringing in far-reaching reformation in the system of providing legal assistance to the needy.
We fully endorse the suggestions of the Chief Justice as very constructive and very pragmatic. It is the State that has to do the legislation part of these suggestions and then will come the stage of their implementation.


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