Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reports of the out station LLP by first years

The outstation Legal Literacy Program organised by the Legal Services Clinic was held this time at Palakkad, Kerala on 27th December, 2008. The LLP was conducted by 2 groups of students . The second group consisted of Ashwini, Aditya Banavar, Anjali Anchayil, Linda Beatrice, Rohit Jayaraman, Nidhi Killawala, Adhiti Gupta, Soumya, Bhargavi, Bhavishyavaani Reddy, Ramya Shankar and Nandivarman. The LLP was conducted in 2 gram panchayats, namely Mundoor and Kongad.
The first session was at Mundoor Panchayat. It was held at 12.30 p.m. Nearly 50 people turned up for the program. The major areas covered were Criminal Law (FIR, Arrest and Bail), Right to Information Act, Legal Aid and Consumer Protection. These areas were explained with the help of small skits and people were asked to point out flaws in the skits. The people were quite interested in the RTI Act, considering that the Panchayat Secretary also held the post of the Public Information Officer. They were quite aware of the existence of consumer courts and the procedures to be followed during arrest. The response was quite mild.
The second session was held Kongad gram panchayat from 2.00 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. The turnout there was approximately 55. The people didn’t know much about the law in this case. They were quite unresponsive when asked whether they had any doubts as regarding the law explained. However, quite a good number of people came up with individual issues and clarifications later on. They asked about what to do in particular situations that they were facing then. They told that they had learnt what to do in cases of consumer related complaints and so on. The session was quite a success.

-Anjali Anchayil

Re-learning the Law
Legal Literacy Programme, Palakkad, Kerala
Legal Services Clinic, NLSIU, Bangalore.

The result of long days of planning, the Legal Literacy Programme that was organised at Palakkad in Kerala on December 27 and 28, 2008 turned out to be a great success. The 20-member team that was chosen from numerous applicants was divided into two groups. The first group, which comprised Vikram Hegde, Navaneeth Nair, Krishnaprasad, Sahana Manjesh, Megha Amarnath, Linda, Nishita Vasan, Swati and Geetha Hariharan, conducted two LLPs - one in the Akathethara Panchayat and one in the Kuzhalmannam Panchayat in Palakkad District. Both were well received.

The points of law covered under both LLPs were basic Criminal Law, Consumer Protection Laws and the Right to Information Act. At the Panchayats, though the entire presentation was well-appreciated, the presentation on Criminal and Consumer Protection laws proved to be most effective and useful, with members of the audience actively coming up with problems they had personally faced, including pending cases in the District Forums and courts. The presentation on Right to Information, though well received, turned out to be slightly superfluous, for both Panchayats had had over a dozen classes on it over the past couple of years!

As a community-service tool, the LLPs proved very effective, as it provided a way to reach out to people in different parts of Palakkad district and gauge the awareness of citizens’ rights and of laws, and LSC was able to pass on information wherever possible. Language was no barrier to communication as, along with the students, the audience also strove to understand and help the other communicate!

As a learning tool for the students, this LLP in Kerala turned out to be very effective, for it gave us an idea of the amounts of preparation required to communicate to people who are well-read and aware of their rights and laws, and pointed us in the direction of more research and the need for practical experience and knowledge. As such, the LLPs in Kerala were sound learning ground for both the students and for the community.

- Geetha Hariharan

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gram Nyayalaya bill passed by the Rajya Sabha

Media coverage which has been expectedly modest can be found here, here, here and here. (Why the many links? compensating for being unable to bring it to you live and as it happened, sansanati khej, sabse tez style. Maybe we can find one of the RS members and ask him how he's feeling)

This means 5067 more courts which prima facie should have been a good thing. I'm not sure if it will reduce pendency in courts significantly. This doubt I entertain as I seek to draw some kind of analogy with The Report by the Standing Committee on Personel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice on the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2008 which sought to increase the number of judges in the supreme court with a view to reducing pendency. (LSC made a representation to the same committee on a different issue last year, more on that later in this post and another post on that coming up). The problem of pendency in the opinion of the committee does not arise from the number of courts alone but also because of several other factors. The Gram Nyayalayas Bill, while admirable in its ambition doesn't seem to do much more than adding a bunch of courts rather than changing the way in which justice is delivered.

The courts which will be in the district headquarters or taluks will go to the villages in buses or jeeps and function there. The main concern I have with this is that this may go the way of village dispensaries which have an amazing 60% absence rate among the personnel supposed to be manning it.

Perhaps one should take heart from the statistics about Fast Track Courts which apparently reduced pendency greatly.

Union Law minister H R Bharadhwaj
"said he had sought the help of Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh to send at least 3000 judges, who will be the judicial magistrate first class (JMFC) to the courts. They will be called ‘Nyaya Adhikaris.’ “They are strictly judicial officers. They will be drawing the same salary, deriving the same powers as the first class magistrates working under the High Courts,” he said in reply to the debate." - TOI

Now I have always been of the creed who believes that this kind of system might actually be upsetting the local, informal dispute resolution systems existing in the villages. I would have voted for a system of regularizing, standardizing and empowering these systems rather than introducing a new system all together. This brings me back to some of the recommendations I had made in front of the Parliamentary committee on that day. Keep visiting this blog for more on the same.

Vikram Hegde

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Long needed amendment to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987

On several occasions I have wondered why S12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 does not include Senior Citizens as one of the categories of people eligible for free legal services. It appears that the government too has now realized this inequity and has made an attempt to set this right. While I laud this step I still feel that the measures taken are not enough. Some while ago, on another blog I had put up a rant about another category of people who were not able to access legal help for an entirely different reason.

I think this is a problem with the pigeon hole approach to selecting categories of persons eligible for Legal Aid under the Legal Services Act. Since legal representation has been recognized as being much more than a statutory right in a host of cases starting from Gideon, I don't see why if a person is not able to access legal help for whatever reason, but does not fall under any of the categories provided under S12 of the LSA Act shouldn't be given Legal Aid. In the other post I think I had said something to the effect of preferring a test that looks for cases where the litigant is not able to avail legal help otherwise for whatever other reason.

This also does not solve the problem of the quality of the free legal aid available. Apart from dereliction of duty by the lawyers, I can think of at least 2 LSC cases where the Legal Aid Lawyer has been accused of skimming off the maintenance money awarded to the litigant.

P.S. The new amendment offers free legal aid to those who those affected by terrorist attacks/riots also.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Would ADR have helped mitigate the financial crisis

The financial crisis which stemmed from the mortgage crisis seems to count among the foremost enemies of humanity today (we give terrorism, heart disease, cancer etc. their due too). At least one person on LSC (me, for example) wonders whether ADR methods, if they had been used at the right time would have helped mitigate the financial crisis significantly.

What caused me to think along these lines was this post on the freakonomics blog which says inter alia that

Back in the old days, banks didn’t package and resell the mortgages they wrote. So when a homeowner got into trouble, they could go down and talk with the bank about working out some solution other than foreclosure. For instance, the bank could allow the borrower to pay back the loan over 30 years instead of 15 years, reducing the monthly payment".
Well that is ADR at its simplest really. The same blog also says that a typical foreclosure costs the lender about $60,000 (these people are not the India Today Sex Survey, they are friends of Krugman, you can believe their stats.)

One major roadblock in using these good ole ADR methods this time round that the banks had repackaged the mortgages and sold them off as securities so the bank did not have the full liability anymore and it they were left with no rights to renegotiate. Further, the repackaging of the mortgages as securities meant that the mortgages were not held as units and renegotiation for the end lender (the person who purchased the security, or the person who purchased a repackaged security from a person who purchased the security....) was not really an option because -
a) the disconnect between him and the mortgage (was he even aware that it was a repackaged mortgage?). He has no means of assessing whether modifying the amortization schedule or something will mean he gets his money back.
b) he wasn't the only person holding any given single mortgage, it was distributed across many securities possibly held by many different people
c) he has small pieces of too many mortgages to bother with renegotiation

There is also the question of to what extent ADR could have saved the day.

Even if it was able to come into play, it would have not been able to anything in cases which are now popularly known as Ninja loans. No humanly possible alternative payment arrangement would have been practicable in these cases. (Where there is an impossibility, there is a crooked way around it - They could renegotiate it such that they postponed foreclosure, speculated when the next real estate bubble would come around and wait till then. This is precisely the kind of hoodwinking that brought it about in the first place)

Can you think of other crises that could have been prevented or mellowed by the timely use of ADR?

Monday, July 21, 2008

A first timers take on an LLP

The proceedings of the legal literacy programme in Rockford Public School commenced in a small classroom packed with students from the 8th, 9th and 10th standards and with 14 students from law school. I was nervous, as it was an unfamiliar experience being in a room packed with people full of expectations and as my prior preparation for this programme seemed insufficient to meet these.

The programme had a lucid structure consisting of skits followed by small discussions on the themes developed in each of these. Each skit was well thought out and gave great examples of everyday experiences that are often violative of fundamental rights and of protections that are guaranteed to us by the state.

For instance, the very first skit dealt with an oration given by a politician outside his home state, that glorified his homeland and criticized the state he was in then. The skit showed the public responding with aggression (even beating him up a little bit) and telling the politician to return home. Through this short skit, numerous subtle themes were brought to the fore, including the freedom of movement, freedom and speech and also the concept of reasonable restrictions. These were later discussed.

The rest of the programme worked in much the same way. The next few skits displayed a woman being turned down a job in favour of a man for no apparent reason, a student being delayed delivery of her mark sheet, a maid being unreasonably arrested for theft and a group of people falling ill due to consumption of food of poor quality and then being forced to pay hefty medical costs.

These skits too brought out very fundamental themes, including the concept of right to equality, right to information, right against exploitation and the idea of consumer protection. Over and above such thematic discussions, there were also brushes with the practicality of law and how these concepts were to be implemented by regular citizens. There were detailed briefings on First Information Reports, the prerequisites for arrest, particularly the arrest of a woman and also how the Right to Information act and Consumer protection act could be used by citizens like us.

Very honestly, I was stunned by the entire experience that lasted, all in all, for only around an hour. For one my personal legal knowledge was greatly enhanced as I was unaware of a number of things that were dealt with. Also a lot of my delusions about the legal awareness of students were altered. When we left college I thought that I would witness a certain level of ignorance at Rockford School, but slowly, I realized that many of the students we interacted with were very enthusiastic and very aware of the legal system governing them. Also, importantly, I saw the evolution of a comfort level in the programme between the two student groups that transformed a largely silent session, with people probing for response, to an energetic forum of discussion and free participation.

Although in retrospect I definitely see the programme as a success, one thing I wish had prevailed for longer is this comfort level. One way of dealing with this could involve giving the students of Rockford a more participative role in the session initially by perhaps including them in some skits. This trip has certainly boosted my enthusiasm as a member of the legal service clinic and I’m in the hope that more such chances come my way.