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Access To Legal Aid: Way Ahead

"...to secure to all its citizens: Justice, Social, Economic, and Political"[1]

Our constitution has the pride of being the lengthiest constitution of the world. It has been created by borrowing the best practices of the countries worldwide situated, and each provision was inserted after heavy discussion upon the same. The preamble of the constitution reflects the objectives and aims to be achieved through the constitution.

In the preamble of our constitution, there is an emphasis upon providing the citizens, JUSTICE, LIBERTY, EQUALITY, and FRATERNITY. To ensure these things to the citizens there are various provisions in the constitution itself. Some are fundamental rights, some are Directive Principles and even in the form of Fundamental Duties to these things have been ensured.

Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides for Free Legal Aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society and ensures justice to all. Article 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution also make it obligatory for the state to ensure equality before the law and a legal system that promotes justice based on equal opportunity to all.

Free Legal Aid And Legal Service Authorities

In 1987, the Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted through which the Legal services authorities were to be established on different levels. These authorities were named as National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) on the national level, State Legal service Authorities on the state level, District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) on District level, and Taluka Legal Service Authority on Taluka level.

To ensure free legal aid inside the higher courts i.e. High Courts and Supreme Court, there are Legal Service Committees at the Supreme Court named as Supreme Court Legal Service Committee, and at High, Courts named as High Court Legal Services Committees.

There are various schemes for the welfare, development, and protection of the people by the central government and by different state governments.

Functioning Of The Legal Service Authorities

The functioning of the legal service authorities is not limited to providing counsel for the legal matters but it is much more beyond that.
The functions of State Legal Service Authorities, District Legal Service Authorities, and Taluka Legal Service Committee include:
  1. To provide free and competent legal services to eligible persons,
  2. To organize Lok Adalats and amicable settlement of disputes, and
  3. To organize legal awareness camps in rural areas.

Effect Of Pandemic And Lockdown On Legal Aid

Due to the pandemic situation of COVID 19, there is a worldwide lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the virus but it has forced people to stay at their homes and to avoid going to public places. Even if now, when the lockdown in India has been leveraged but people are still advised to avoid the public interaction if not necessary.

The pandemic situation has led to the cancellation of many public events and shortly they are unlikely to be taking place as the cases of COVID 19 are increasing rapidly. The pandemic has not only affected the economical aspects of people's life but it has also limited the options of approaching courts for redressal of their legal issues.

In a country like India, where the awareness regarding the rights of the people is very low and various awareness programs run to make them aware regarding the same, a situation of lockdown increases much more chances of the victims being harassed not only mentally but physically and economically as well.

As the pandemic was unprecedented and the lockdown was imposed without any prior notice, various awareness programs and redressal forums were planned to be conducted for settling the grievances of those in need of Legal Aid, but due to this lockdown, all programs and redressal forums stood canceled. Not only this but the cases of Domestic violence increased quite rapidly as the victim was residing with the perpetrator of the domestic violence and couldn't step out due to lockdown.

Steps Taken To Provide Legal Aid During The Lockdown Period

When the people are not allowed to go out of their houses and it is not possible to go to each house in person asking for legal aid, the National Legal Services Authority along with the State Legal Services Authorities has launched the helpline numbers for the people to complaint issues such as Domestic violence, Senior citizen violence, Sexual abuse, also there is one helpline to deal with the mental issues as faced during the lockdown period.

The various District Legal Services Authorities have made an effort by reaching out to the Milk centers/ chemist shops/ Anganwadi workers/ Aasha didi for increasing the awareness regarding the issue of Domestic violence and to inform them about the WhatsApp number where the women can message in case of domestic violence.

Steps Which Can Be Taken For Better Outreach:

  • The Legal Services authorities can also run various online campaigns and encourage the students and other responsible citizens of the locality to create awareness around them.
     
  • The authorities can make some designated legal aid spots within each 2-3 KM. as per the population where the facility of the projector, sound, and video conferencing is available.
     
  • The authorities can further, conduct various online redressal forums through these legal aid spots as it won't have an excessive number of people and social distancing can be thoroughly followed.
     
  • The authorities can go for sessions through the online medium at the schools with not more than 50 people at a time (to prevent violation of Social Distancing) through the Anganwadi workers or Para Legal Volunteers in the locality.

Conclusion:

The authorities can only try to reach out to the citizens in need of legal aid; it's the prime responsibility as human beings, of the people living around to ensure that the needy should get benefit out of the efforts of the authorities to provide legal aid and assistance.

End-Notes:
  1. Preamble of the Constitution of India, 1950

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