Absence of Speedy Trial A 'Black Spot'

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New Delhi, Dec 18 (UNI) A ''black spot'' was how Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj today described the system's inability to provide speedy trial.

It's a ''black spot on our system that we are not able to provide a speedy trial,'' Bhardwaj said in his valedictory address to a National Roundtable On Access To Justice.

The Roundtable was jointly sponsored by India's Department of Justice and the United Nations Development Programme in pursuit of a project called Strengthened Access to Justice in India.

The UNDP project studied enforcement of criminal law, formal and informal law and legal aid and empowerment in 44 districts of Haryana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

The Law and Justice Minister spoke of the effect of economic inequalities in dispensing justice despite citizens' ''equality'' before law, adding that ''poverty is the biggest curse.'' Such democracies as the United States and Britain have legal aid services provided to citizens unable to afford lawyer and other costs to protect or enforce their rights.

As a senior British Judge, Gavin Lightman, reportedly noted last week, ''Rights are only meaningful so far as they can be protected and enforced in the courts.'' In a lecture in London, Judge Lightman observed that ''the rule of law can and should be an adhesive force... but it can also be a divisive force in society. Which it is must depend on how far access to its protection is open to all. When its protection is withheld for any reason, this is a recipe for a well-founded sense of alienation.'' In India, efforts to provide citizens legal aid were initiated in the mid-1970s, but do not appear to have come far, evidenced among other things by the presence of a large population of undertrials in custody, often in absence of adequate legal help.

Criticism that Indian legal aid agencies spend much of the resources in organising seminars is validated at least to an extent by their failure to publish data on aid recipients.

A parliamentary panel reported a year ago that India's poor litigants see legal aid provided to them by the authority set up eleven years ago as ''mere eyewash.'' Bhardwaj spoke appreciatively of the British legal aid system, which he said is overseen by its Law Society, the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales.

Bhardwaj criticised the quality of Indian lawyers produced by some law colleges, especially in rural areas-- ''very bad,'' was how he put it.

The authority to supervise law education is assigned under the law to the Bar Council of India.

UNI

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