Wednesday, February 21, 2024

‘Lawyers treating legal aid as step child cause for concern’

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Legal aid is not an alternative charity and the “sin” of lawyers treating the pro bono work as a “step child” remains a cause for concern, Attorney General R Venkataramani said on Monday and condemned such an attitude.
The law officer said those who think that the progress in legal profession is through corporate or governmental work alone are blind to the fundamentals of their professional calling.
“The original sin of lawyers treating legal aid as a step child continues to be a cause for concern. Legal aid is not an alternative second charity, I squarely condemn such an attitude,” he said while speaking at the inaugural session of a two-day regional conference hosted by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) on access to legal aid. He said that despite several progresses in the areas of activities under the Legal Services Authorities Act, the question remains “how do we generate dignity and reputation to legal services work?” The attorney general said participation in socially relevant legal services should be a proud, ethical and moral dimension of the profession. “If you want to aspire for Padma awards, if not Magsaysay Award, as a moral doctorate conferment, be a part of the legal services and be a part of enabling people to have freedom from unequal opportunity in the legal and unequal justice system,” he told the gathering. He also advocated that the government must set up legal services watch to take stock and report on corrective measures.
“Maybe we should move away from political freebies to non-political engagements,” he added.
The conference has been hosted by NALSA with the support of the Government of India and in collaboration with the International Legal Foundation (ILF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Besides Venkataramani, the inaugural session was attended by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who is the executive chairman of NALSA, Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal.
The law officer said poverty, inequality and economic deprivation are generally the causes for lack of access to justice.
The solution to the problem of people being unable to secure equality within the justice system cannot merely be a matter of enabling an equal contest by unequally placed parties within the adversarial system, he said. “All developmental talks will be meaningful if citizens have the same sense of comfort and belonging to and participation in justice administration,” the attorney general said. He said the connection between equal distribution of income, poverty reduction, employment generation, rural growth, social sector development such as education may have to be seen as seamless programmes.
“The next generation of legal services would be to engage into these connections and to provide assistance and guidance. This would call for setting up of legally empowered centres in rural and the rural part of urban areas to be socially empowered sectors. What political and social education can do in the hands of partisan political agencies, legal empowerment can do by structured education just as adult education programmes do,” he said.

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