Justice Remains Challenge: Prez Patil

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New Delhi, Sep 3 (UNI) Although India guarantees free legal aid, ensuring access to justice for all, particularly marginalised Indians, ''remains a challenge,'' President Pratibha Devisingh Patil acknowledged today.

''Our efforts to enhance deliverability of justice have to continue,'' Patil said speaking at the opening of Delhi University's National Law School.

She made no direct reference to studies which indicate that notwithstanding huge amounts spent ostensibly on legal aid, its benefits are yet to reach citizens at large.

An Indian parliamentary panel reported two years ago that India's poor litigants see legal aid provided to them by an authority set up eleven years ago as "mere eyewash." "Poor litigants feel that legal aid being provided to them is mere eyewash," the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice said.

Other experts have pointed to opacity in the conduct of legal aid-- there being little public data on matters taken up, lawyers engaged and justice secured.

President Patil, a copy of whose remarks was available on her official website, noted that ''ever since Independence, our collective effort has been to make our Judicial System more responsive and modern.

''We have covered many a milestone along this path. Several outmoded Acts have been amended or repealed and the processes have been reformed to allow for alternative methods of grievance redressal.

''However, in a country with the size and magnitude of India, providing access to justice for all remains a challenge, particularly in respect of the marginalized sections of our society.

''Free legal aid is guaranteed but our efforts to enhance deliverability of justice have to continue,'' she asserted.

Patil cautioned lawyer aspirants against a tendency to dupe, bluff or pretend clients or litigants saying ''overeagerness can result in piquant situations.'' She went on to narrate an anecdote about a young lawyer who had just started his own legal practice and was anxious to impress potential clients.

On spotting his first caller, the lawyer picked up his telephone and went on about how frightfully busy he was, only to discover that the visitor was a lineman come to fix his telephone.

The presidential speech, the first since two senior Indian advocates-- representing respectively prosecution and defence-- were found guilty of conniving to shield an affluent hit-and-run driver, contained a sprinkling of such words as truth and integrity.

''In India,since ancient times,'' she said, ''justice has always been equated with Truth and Dharma. Every new entrant to the Law School, should get a deep understanding of these basic tenets of the philosophy of law so that later in their professional life they adopt the Dharma of Truth and Welfare of all.'' Noting the trend of new law graduates entering corporate practice, Patil said ''there is certainly nothing wrong to have a career in a corporate set-up but court experience is also something that you should not miss.

''It is in a court that the arguing skills are tested and the mind is sharpened. It is here that you can also contribute to society by taking up socially important matters and those of the weaker sections.'' UNI MJ RP HS2152

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