Updated: March 23, 2021 7:33:46 am
The idea of “access to justice” is deeply embedded in the Constitutional vision and forms the bedrock of the country’s rule of law, Supreme Court Judge Justice N V Ramana said Monday, adding that there are millions still living without access to justice.
Speaking at the inauguration of the front offices and legal aid defense counsel office under the auspices of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in New Delhi, Justice Ramana — the second most senior judge of the top court — 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 One would have expected that, in this fast-paced world, topics such as these would have become outdated, however, they have not.”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 in 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 demotivate us,” Justice Ramana said, adding that, “As long as we are a nation which continues to face such dual realities, such discussions must continue.”
He said India has one of the world’s largest Legal Aid systems in the world in terms of the percentage of people entitled to free legal aid.
“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,” he said, highlighting that legal services authorities cater to over 70 percent of the population entitled for free legal aid.
Mentioning that around 48,227 panel lawyers are empanelled with the legal services authorities throughout India, he called upon all lawyers to do some pro-bono work.
On the legal aid defense counsel system, he said it was recently introduced by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) on a pilot basis and under this, lawyers are exclusively engaged on full-time basis for 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, he said adding around 1600 cases have been handled by the legal aid defense counsel system in 2020 alone.
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