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English Release 31-July 2014
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Previous Date

 
Ministry of Law & Justice 17-November, 2012 15:29 IST
Dr. Ashwani Kumar Inaugurates International Conference on Equitable Access to Justice: Legal Aid and Legal Empowerment

“7”

 

Access to justice and rule of law are essential to provide the foundation for growth, development and ultimately poverty reduction. An act of justice is to overcome poverty. With law as the platform, rights guaranteed can be enjoyed only when the law is accessed by everybody and is the same for everybody. Our effort is to strive for it at this juncture and we are here today to both learn and share experiences with those from across the world. With these worlds, Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Union   Law  & Justice Minister  today inaugurated and delivered the key note address at a 2-day International Conference on “Equitable Access to Justice: Legal Aid and Legal Empowerment” here Today. The Conference is being organized jointly by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

 

Following is the text of ministers’ address:

“It gives me immense pleasure today to participate in this International Conference on Equitable Access to Justice:  Legal Aid and Legal Empowerment. This event is very significant for us as we have been able to bring together countries, governments, individuals and perspectives that strive to increase quality access to justice for marginalised communities. This exchange of information and strategies will be very valuable in the development of ideas to bring justice to those who need it the most as well as to evolve strategies from a collective sharing of experiences and challenges.

 

The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi once said “The first step to achieving justice is to make injustice visible”. These profound words have found echo in our quest for justice over the decades since Independence.   Though beset with challenges, access to justice has been the focus area for decades after our independence. The Indian Constitution, which is the basic law of land, provides the framework within which the rights of people are to be protected. It aspires for justice – social, economic and political. Article 39A of the Constitution places upon the State an obligation to guarantee equal justice and free legal aid to Indians. Over the years, the Constitutional mandate has also been strengthened with several pro – poor laws and policies of the Government which aims at the establishment of an independent and strong judiciary as well as a vibrant civil society.

 

The Vision Statement and Action Plan adopted in 2009 for strengthening the judiciary for reducing pendency and delays has stated that “Ultimately, an efficient legal and judicial system which delivers quick and quality justice reinforces the confidence of people in the rule of law, facilitates investment and production of wealth, enables better distributive justice, promotes basic human rights and enhances accountability and democratic governance”. Significant challenges, no doubt, remain in the form of delay in addressing injustices. But in the case of marginalised, the problem is compounded both by lack of awareness and lack of resources.

 

In recognition of the challenges which they face, the Government has made efforts and taken new initiatives, both administrative and legislative, besides improving access to justice through delivery of legal aid as well as by legal empowerment of these groups. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987, to reach out free legal services to weaker sections of society. They have set up Lok Adalats (People’s Courts) as a form of Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanisms. Legal aid in India bridges the gap between justice delivery mechanisms and the common man. There are plans afoot to scale up these services and take them upto the village level. Given that there are more than 600000 villages, in India, this will indeed be a remarkable step forward. Further, under the paralegal volunteers’ scheme, paralegals are being trained to not only assist in accessing legal support by those who require it the most but by making them aware that this is their entitlement. These efforts are being further strengthened by state and non-state collaborations which combine the strengths available to address the challenge of access to justice.

 

For the first time in our planning process, the Planning Commission of India had constituted a Working Group on the Department of Justice with the objective of making recommendations to the 12th five year plan. Amongst the suggestions made by the Working Group are strengthening of Alternate Dispute Resolution system to benefit the marginalised and strengthen the capacity of the Legal Service Authorities.  The Thirteenth Finance Commission of India has made an award of Rs. 5000 crores (one billion US Dollars) for carrying out judicial reforms, in the five years from 2012 - 2015. Funds have also been allocated to the State Governments for setting up alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, morning and evening and special courts, infrastructure development and most importantly, for training of both the judges and prosecutors. An innovative eCourts scheme with an allocation of Rs. 935 crore (US $ 180 million) has been undertaken for ICT enablement of all the courts in the country. The completion of the project will improve citizen centric services and will help improve case management systems in courts. Additionally, National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reform has also been constituted in 2011 with the objectives of reducing pendency and increasing accountability through structural changes and setting performance standards. During this year, a Model Courts project has been initiated to set up Courts of Tomorrow that would have the requisite infrastructure and which would be with procedures and process which help to deliver quicker justice. The results of the experiment would be utilized to replicate it across the country. Palpably, the project will witness convergence of several schemes which are interlinked, such as police and prisons schemes as well as schemes that impact women, children and other vulnerable groups.

 

Globally, the measures which we are undertaking in India are in harmony with the aspirations of the democratic world that strives for establishing principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) set out specific obligations of the State to provide state funded counsel for indigent people.  The United Nations Principles on Access to Justice in Criminal Justice System, The Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, The Resolution on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa and the Lilongwe Declaration on Accessing Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System, amongst others, are amongst the regional instruments which support legal aid delivery. Legal aid thrives in countries where governments fulfill these obligations. However, gaps remain, where use of resources is not maximized, trained lawyers are scarce and geographical coverage is patchy. Efforts in India are being made on improving legal empowerment. This ranges from law clinics run through law universities, paralegal programmes, legal awareness programmes and lawyers training programme. These efforts are significant in the delivery of justice and the empowerment of individuals to access rights deemed to them by the Constitution.

 

The Access to Justice project implemented by the Department of Justice in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme is an example of the efforts being made for creating sustainable and positive change across the States. With a focus on those who are vulnerable and those that live at the periphery of society, the project has made an impact and yielded inspirational results by empowering women and children, scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and the poor by arming them with information on their rights and by demystifying justice delivery systems. Statistical details of the achievements, I am told, are impressive.

 

As we are gearing up for the next phase of the Access to Justice Project which will be modeled on the experience of the first phase, this conference, I am sure, will go a long way in providing further innovative ideas and thoughts. We will hear about the best practices elsewhere in the world in the next two days. I am told that the focus of the next phase of the project will be on acceleration of judicial reforms within the larger framework of making governance more inclusive, accountable and decentralized. This will require greater engagement with Legal Service Authorities and other key delivery institutions. This will also require greater convergence with other Ministries and institutions to improve justice delivery for the poor, particularly women.  The Conference today is in a way an important milestone assigned under the project and I expect the recommendations and ideas emerging from here, will be a valuable input for the next phase of the project.

 

In conclusion, let me say that there is a larger vision to having an event like this. In today’s world, it is accepted that access to justice and rule of law are essential to provide the foundation for growth, development and ultimately poverty reduction. An act of justice is to overcome poverty. With law as the platform, rights guaranteed can be enjoyed only when the law is accessed by everybody and is the same for everybody. Our effort is to strive for it at this juncture and we are here today to both learn and share experiences with those from across the world.

 

On that note, I would like to conclude the address and wish the very best to the Conference.”

                It is noteworthy that The Department of Justice is implementing a Project on “Access to Justice for Marginalized People” (A2J) in collaboration with the UNDP. This International Conference is to mark the completion of the Project. As part of the Project, international best practices on legal empowerment and legal aid have been studied, including through field visits to South Africa, Malawi, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. The Conference is  also expected witness discussions on best practices from these and other countries by international experts in order to draw lessons for implementing similar programmes in India in the next phase of the project beginning in 2013. 

                The A2J Project has witnessed the roll out of pilot programmes on legal awareness, capacity building of intermediaries including lawyers and paralegals, and has assisted vulnerable groups in accessing legal services throughout the 7 Project States of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The project has reached out to 20 lakh people through legal literacy programmes. 6,000 paralegals and 300 lawyers have been trained to reach out to the marginalized people to make them aware of their rights and entitlements, and assist them with legal aid. 

                 India has constituted statutory authorities to provide free legal services to the poor and marginalized sections of the society. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) together with State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) are mandated to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society including legal advice, legal counseling, legal aid for filing and/or arguing matters in the courts, court fees etc. The A2J Project works closely with the National and State Legal Services Authorities and the judicial academies with a view to develop the capacity of service delivery institutions for serving the people better. The Conference will bring together members of NALSA and Executive Chairpersons and Member Secretaries of all State Legal Services Authorities across the country. 

The opening session began with the addresses of  Ms. Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative India, Mr. Marcus Brand, Human Rights and Access to Justice Advisor,  UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Centre and  Mr. D.K. Sikri, Secretary, Department of Justice (DoJ), M/o Law & Justice.                 
                

a  The Conference is being attended by 200 participants including 40 participants from 21  countries. Among them are Chief Justice of India, Justice Altamas   Kabir, chief justices from the state high courts, jurists of international repute and heads of national legal aid agencies .

*****

ST/_


(Release ID :89091)

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