The 17th All India Meet of State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs), under the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), was convened on 17th-18th August, 2019 at Nagpur. The meet was attended by representatives from all 36 State Legal Services Authorities, including Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Supreme Court Judge Sharad Bobde, and Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The summit facilitates the assimilation of ideas and best practices.
Along with CJI Gogoi, who is NALSA’s patron-in-chief, and Justice Bobde, who is NALSA’s executive chairman, Chief Justice of Bombay High Court and patron-in-chief of Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) Pradeep Nandrajog, chairman of Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, Justice NV Ramanna, administrative judge at HC’s Nagpur bench Ravi Deshpande, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Justices from various states, executive chairpersons of SLSAs and High Court Judges and other legal luminaries came to the two-day event at Nagpur.
About the event: The event aims to enable the weaker sections of the society to get justice by providing them with free and competent legal services. Speakers at the event guide the participants on effective justice delivery. They hold discussions on enhancing the quality of legal services available in courts, legal services in prison, victim compensation system, ADRs, budget and aids, activities and legal services clinics.
The NALSA Meet was inaugurated by the Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad.
It was put forth during the meet that NALSA had utilized all its funds in the past three years and disposed off over 24 lakh cases in both pre-litigation and litigation stages. It provided legal aid to over 14 lakh people since last year and conducted over 1.7 lakh legal awareness programs.
Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, Justice Pradeep Nandrajog said that the agenda of the meet revolved around, among other things, importing innovation, technology, and public defenders system, in the services delivery mechanism and the same would earmark the agendas for the next meet. He also said that the exercise of introspection and reformulation of methods of delivering legal aid was a significant process which would serve the country in the long run.
Chief Justice Gogoi at the Meet
Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranjan Gogoi addressed the gathering where he appreciated the idea of contemplating a futuristic approach in the legal aid delivery mechanism. Even though he insisted that the quality of legal services and aid has improved vastly over the years, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stressed that there is a need to expand the circle of influence of law to cover greater numbers of deprived people to benefit in terms of justice.
Technology to provide legal aid: CJI Gogoi suggested using technology as a tool “Let us use technology to provide legal aid using mobile apps especially in vernacular language,’’ he said in a suggestion. He went on to highlight the significance of “leveraging technology for better and timely access” to justice. He says that technology can be a very effective tool to ensure timely justice to the needy. He suggested the development of an app in vernacular languages for better access across the country. However, he said, the emphasis must not be laid on the quantity of legal services but rather, on its quality.
Quality of Legal Services: “Right to legal aid means right to quality legal aid.” He offered a few suggestions on ways to improve the legal aid and its efficiency – “There should be a rigorous selection process for empanelment of lawyers,” he said. Timely payment to panel lawyers along with enhanced training is the way ahead for effective implementation of welfare benefits. “Man is not made for law. The law is made for man,’’ said CJI Gogoi. “Access to justice allows their voice to be heard, to hold decision-makers accountable. It necessitates promotion of fair transparent accountable justice system without any extraneous consideration, which would include caste, colour, religion, gender, and place of birth,” he added.
“Quality of legal services must be a focus rather than just quantity and batted for a rigorous selection process and better terms of service and incentives for panel lawyers”, he said. He also advised the legal services authorities to break the wall beyond awareness campaigns and engage students to act as representatives in “the mission of access to justice”.
Gogoi also mentioned Article 39 of the Indian Constitution, which states that a State must ensure that opportunity to justice is not denied to anyone. It ensures that justice is promoted based on equal opportunity.
Legal Literacy: He also talked about legal literary. Emphasizing on the need for legal literacy, Chief Justice Gogoi said “awareness of ones’ rights and means of securing those rights are powerful instruments for bringing about social and economic progress. Absence of legal awareness is a root cause of deception, exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits of the masses.” He emphasized that legal education must be imparted in schools apart from spreading rudimentary awareness to ensure broader access to justice. “Legal literacy and legal awareness go hand in hand”. He also said that students from schools and law colleges must be involved with NALSA and that their talent can be tapped in creative ways.
Executive Chairman of NALSA and sitting Supreme Court judge, Justice S.A. Bobde, presided over the meet and reiterated the discussions held over two days. He said the meet was a stepping stone in bringing about a revolutionary change in the approach of SLSAs. He stated that implementation of Legal Aid Defence Counsel System in selected states from each zone would facilitate the availability of legal aid for the poor and marginalized by seasoned lawyers. This system is to ensure legal aid to people. It has been successfully adopted in several countries abroad and its acceptance in India is a positive step.
Legal aid to prisoners is an important facet of equal access to justice and the same was deliberated upon during the conclave. It was a collective understanding that lack of awareness and proper communication channels has been a hindrance in ensuring legal aid to prisoners. The members took a collective decision to constitute a committee to evolve a scheme that would ensure that the prisoners who are unrepresented and those represented by legal aid are made aware of the status of their case and are guided for appealing to the next higher forum. The move would be significant in overcoming systemic inadequacies and bring credible solutions to the table.