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.