Saturday, November 26, 2022

Access to justice is a tool for social emancipation: CJI NV Ramana

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Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Saturday said that access to Justice was a tool for social emancipation.

Addressing the gathering at the All India District Legal Services Authorities’ meet, the CJI said the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was enacted with the objective of reaching the persons at the bottom of the pyramid.

The fact that it is aimed at offering free legal aid to 70 percent of our population, makes National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) the largest legal aid provider in the world. Many of the objectives of NALSA have been translated to social realities. This was made possible because of the sincere effort of dedicated judges and advocates, who have been shaping the policies and paving the roadmap of NALSA for the past 27 years.

The governments also have been active partners in the ‘access to justice’ project. If today we have reached people’s doorstep and have earned their trust, the acclaim goes to the cooperative functioning between the forward-looking judges, spirited advocates and volunteers and governments. I sincerely thank you all.

I am glad that the 27 years long and noteworthy journey of NALSA is being captured and celebrated through the commemorative stamp by the Ministry of Communications. I sincerely thank the Government of India for bringing out this postage stamp.

The purpose behind organising this Conference is to introspect about various factors governing the administration of justice and to discover ways and means to bring qualitative improvement in the system.

The District Judiciary is the backbone of the justice delivery system in the world’s largest democracy. The District Judicial officers are the first point of contact for much of the population. Public opinion about the judiciary is primarily based on their experiences with the district judiciary. This casts a great responsibility on your shoulders. You must undertake multifaceted tasks and roles. You are best placed to understand people’s problems and social issues.

Every progressive policy must find its basis on a strong foundation. Strengthening the District Judiciary is the need of the hour. Without any doubt, the District Judiciary is the driving force behind the legal aid movement in India.
Wherever I go, I always attempt to project the achievements of the Indian judiciary in winning the trust and faith of the people. But if we intend to serve the people better, we need to flag the issues which hinder our functioning. There is no meaning in camouflaging or hiding the problems. If we don’t discuss these issues, if matters of pressing concern are not addressed, then the system will cripple. I fear, we may be unable to fulfill our constitutional mandate of social justice. I urge you therefore, to Discuss, Debate and Decide! This is the principle I have been following all through.

I know, the challenges before you are enormous. The issues of conditions of service, remunerations and infrastructure deserve immediate attention. The Supreme Court this week tried to address some of these issues by way of direction for implementation of revised pay benefits.

I hope all concerned agencies will work together to sort out other issues as well. Today, technology has emerged as a great enabler. I urge upon all of you to use modern technological tools to enhance the pace of justice delivery.

The agenda items reflect the need for importance of intervention by the district officers. One of the most important aspects which calls for your active consideration and intervention is in relation to the condition of undertrials.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Attorney General K.K. Venugopal have also rightly flagged this issue in the recently-held conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices. I am happy to note that NALSA is actively collaborating with all stakeholders in securing much deserved relief for undertrials.

The next issue is that of effective representation before judicial forums. We need sincere and dedicated jail visiting advocates. Jail visiting advocates can later become the legal aid authorised defence counsels. Such advocates must also be accessible to families of the prisoners, who are often unaware about their status. Similarly, the Counsel also must be aware about the conditions and needs of prisoners and must make appropriate and timely applications before the authorities.

Another important item on the agenda is strengthening ADR and Lok Adalats. ADR, through Lok Adalats, Gram Nyayalayas, mediation and arbitration centers, has the potential to transform the legal landscape of India by providing millions of people a platform to settle their grievances.
Matters ranging from matrimonial disputes, intergovernmental disputes, government contracts and land acquisition can be attempted to be resolved through mandatory ADR.

This will not only reduce pendency and backlog, but also will provide much needed speedy justice to affected parties.
In this mission of justice, the association of young law students can potentially overhaul the whole legal services landscape.

Currently, around 1721 Universities and colleges are producing lakhs of law graduates every year. This interaction is not only important for marginalised people, but is also highly beneficial for young students in their career and personal development. This engagement will give necessary exposure to the students to the grassroot realities of our country and the judicial system.
Speaking about the ‘Azadi ka amrit mahotsav,’ being celebrated across the country on completing 75 years of independence, the CJI said, “In these 75 years, we have witnessed many sacrifices, achievements, and crises. Our resilient democracy helped us withstand many a challenge. But we still have miles to go. It is time for our nation to collectively resolve to emerge as the world’s best.

“Today, India stands as the 5th largest economy in terms of GDP, and 2nd most populous country in the world. In the 21st century, we are a force to be reckoned with. Our true strength at this juncture lies with our youth. With an average age of 29 years, India has one of the youngest populations in the world.

One fifth of the world’s youth live in India. This huge human resource, if properly trained, will drive our economic progress. With skilled workers estimated to be only three percent of our total work force, we need to harness the full potential of the youthful demographic profile of our country. With the western world increasingly falling short of skilled human resources, it is India’s turn to fill the gap, globally. “JUSTICE: SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL”- that is the vision of justice which our preamble promises to every Indian. The reality is that, today, only a small percentage of our population can approach the justice delivery system, when in need. Majority of the people suffer in silence, lacking awareness and necessary means. Modern India was built around the goal of removing the disparities in the society.

Project democracy is about providing a space for participation of all. Participation will not be possible without social emancipation. Further, Law Students should consider this as a golden opportunity to interact with their first-ever clients and make a substantial difference in their lives. This service to the society will shape your values and ground you to existing social realities. As Swami Vivekananda once said, “My hope of the future lies in the youth of character, intelligent, renouncing all for the service of others and obedient – good to themselves and the country at large.”

I thank the Prime Minister for his constant presence and encouragement to the legal services movement. I also thank him for allocating necessary funds and taking active interest in the activities of NALSA for the cause of justice. We all know how tight his schedule is. Yet, my experience so far is that he has always readily agreed to associate himself with such events.

In the span of one year, the Prime Minister has taken out valuable time to attend a number of events hosted by the judiciary. Thank You, Mr Prime Minister.
I must place on record my sincere thanks to Shree Ram Nath Kovind Ji, the former President of India. He was always willing to guide us, in each of our endeavors. I thank him on behalf of the entire judicial fraternity for his active association with the cause of justice.

I also thank Law Minister Kiren Rijiju. His active association with NALSA is visible to all. His commitment to the cause of accessibility to justice is really admirable. I sincerely thank him for taking up issues raised in the recent conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices with the government.

Justice U.U. Lalit is a creative leader, who has been working with utmost dedication to turn access to justice into a reality. I am sure his innovative campaigns will turn a new page in the history of legal services in India.

Justice DY Chandrachud has already made a mark in giving a boost to accessibility through information technology. I am sure, in times to come, the judiciary in this country will benefit from his vision.
I take this opportunity to appreciate the efforts put in by various stakeholders: the legal services authorities, the panel lawyers and the paralegal volunteers for showing immense flexibility and determination for the cause of justice even during such difficult times.

The issues highlighted and resolved in this conference must find reflection at the ground level. I earnestly hope that the momentum continues and NALSA along with the entire network of Legal Service Authorities continues to display utmost passion and vigor.
As a roadmap for the future, the Legal Services Authorities are focused on developing an accessible mechanism to redress the violation of rights, and empowering the people through legal services and legal awareness. I conclude by quoting Montesquieu, the famous French political philosopher. He said and I quote: “In the state of nature … all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it.”

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