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An estimated 6-minute read

Role of Law Schools in the Legal Aid Movement

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Article 39A of the Indian Constitution states that “The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.”

Justice is what we usually talk about whenever we come across Indian Judicial Process. The purpose for which Judiciary has been established is to deliver justice to everyone irrespective of his social and economic condition. Very often, it becomes quite difficult for a person to get justice because of certain economic means or certain procedures which he is not aware of. Usually, a person does not want to indulge himself in the litigation process because of delay in justice. It has become a mindset of various people that if a person is entering into the process of litigation, then it would become very difficult for him to get out of it. Various Legal Aid Committees have been established by Central and State Government in order to make sure that justice can be delivered to those persons who are not able to represent themselves because of their economic condition. Indian Constitution envisages making the state oblige to enact a suitable act in order to provide free legal Aid to those people who cannot afford the litigation process.

I want to discuss here the role of Law Universities in this regard. In fact, they can play a very prominent role in providing free Legal Aid.First such legal awareness campaign was started at the Faculty of Law (Delhi University). Name of Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon is not new for anyone who is related to legal field. While delivering lecture at 1st National Legal Aid Conference 2011, held at The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and Prof. Menon narrated a story which is some gave rise to the legal awareness campaign at Delhi University. He informed that while serving at Delhi University in the year 1969(Or, you can understand it to be the period or year near 1969), he came across a lady with her two children. She came to Delhi in search of his husband, who had left his home in order to meet a minister. He wanted to cancel his transfer orders, but it was informed by the lady that he had returned to home for a long period of time. Lady and his husband belonged to some district of Andhra Pradesh. Prof. Menon said he along with his colleagues and students were in a state of confusion as to what should be in this situation. They went to the Central Jail in search of that lady’s husband, and it was a quite hard task for them because there were thousands of prisoners in the jail and identifying a particular person out of them seemed a difficult job to be done. But, lady and her children recognized the man out of thousands of prisoners. Subsequently, Prof. Menon along with other people went to the magistrate’s office in order to make that person free, and their attempt was not abortive but a successful one.

One such story was shared by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ruma Paul at the same conference. She informed a real incident where a woman lost her home because of some fraud done by a person. That person, who committed fraud, used to live with the lady (a widow) and was not able to make her trust over him. He asked the lady to sign some property papers so that she can get a good amount for her house. She acted accordingly, but papers were not the same as mentioned by that man. Indeed, she had transferred her property to that person by way of singing the papers. Now, the lady is living in some women orphanage and she still asks one thing “When will I get my money which I was supposed to get?” For this purpose, Justice Ruma Paul, who works with CHRI, collaborated with National University of Juridical Sciences to start SHADHINOTA program. Moreover, it was informed by Prof. Menon that law schools should play the most prominent role in providing free legal aid to the poor people. He criticised the inability of Central and State government in implementing the very act which was enacted in the year 1987 diligently i.e. The Legal Services Authorities Act.

Recent success of National Law University Delhi can set another example on how law universities can work effectively in such kinds of matters. Legal Aid Committee of National Law University, Delhi was able to free a person, who was imprisoned in Tihar Jail for last years for the theft of a wallet which had Rs. 1000 inside it. Students argued before the magistrate and were successful in persuading the magistrate. It has been informed by them that they visit Jail 4 times in a month in order to make prisoners aware of legal aid and related activities.

Another success of a law school in this matter can be attributed to the Legal Aid Clinic of NLSIU, Bangalore, which recently won a consumer forum action against Pepsi Co. for charging differential minimum retail prices (MRPs) on beverages.

These activities can set an example for not only National Law Universities, but every law university to take effective measures in this regard. It would not difficult to say that there are many people who are not aware of the legal process in India, and which make them unwarranted victims. A national core committee can also be formed which would include representatives of various law universities, and to make a strategy in order to make this aid available to the real people. Several campaigns are held by few law universities and they turn out successful. Why law universities are able to make this aid available to everyone is because they know how it can be implemented. Law students are considered to be the social engineers of the society, and this work can take them not one step one many steps forwards to make the purpose of Legal Aid Committees successful. Another incident can be referred to while discussing the role of law schools in providing free legal aid. This incident is related to the legal aid which is provided under the supervision of District Court, where a person was cheated by the lawyer appointed by the District Legal Aid Committee. It was Sagar District (M.P.), where a party was not willing to accept the legal aid because legal aid counsel cheated them after taking some bribe from the opposite party. Had that party been aware of the existence of a legal aid clinic in the law university situated in that particular place, the party would have been able to get justice. Active Legal Aid clinics should not remain limited to certain places like Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore etc. where law schools are active enough in this regard. If necessary, these universities can take a step which can make other universities’ legal aid committee active. There are thousands of people who become victim because of their poor legal knowledge, and they are not economic sound to get the justice.

Provision of Free Legal Aid has been envisaged under the Indian Constitution, but government has not been able to implement it successfully barring few places. Lok Adalats are held from time to time, and this is the only success which can be attributed to the government in implementing The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. But, it would not be wrong to say that law schools have showed their commitment in providing legal aid to the people who need it, and it can be implemented in a better way if all universities across the country start implementing it diligently.


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