The system of having dedicated lawyers to fight cases for poor and marginalised could do “great wonders” for the legal aid movement in India, asserted Supreme Court judge Justice Uday Umesh Lalit on Sunday, days before he takes over as the next Chief Justice of India.
Justice Lalit, who is in line to become the CJI later this month, is the executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA). The judge next to the CJI is conventionally the executive chairman of the body.
Speaking to HT following the culmination of the First All India District Legal Services Authorities meet in New Delhi, justice Lalit described NALSA’s plan to have legal aid defence counsel offices in each district as one of the most ambitious projects of the body.
“When a lawyer has two legal aid matters out of a hundred matters, the former cases may be neglected. So, rather than engaging lawyers on an assignment basis, if you have a dedicated counsel who works only for legal aid matters, you will have a spirited and dedicated team. This may do wonders and build people’s confidence in the system,” he emphasised.
Those approaching the legal services offices, said the judge, will then have faith that their cases will not be botched up for not having dedicated lawyers. As a step in this direction, justice Lalit added, NALSA has identified 350 districts in the beginning where legal defence counsel offices will be opened.
“In each district, we will engage young, talented lawyers at a fixed remuneration to take up only legal aid cases. They may not be the front runners in the profession but will have the intellect and effort to match any kind of talent,” he said.
Of all the endeavours undertaken by NALSA under his leadership, the judge says that the concept of establishing legal aid defence counsel offices across the country can usher in a range of reforms.
“If this works out the way it has been envisaged, it may bring in a revolution of sorts. This would make the lawyers thoroughly accountable to the cases that they take up, and would in turn also benefit the seekers of legal aid who would have completely dedicated lawyers,” he added.
Justice Lalit said that he is immensely satisfied with his almost two-year term as the executive chairman of NALSA. Asked to pick one of the most satisfying aspects of his tenure, justice Lalit said he would take pride that NALSA conducted a very successful outreach programme, covering all the villages in India.
“We reached more than six lakh villages in the country at least thrice as part of the 42-day pan-India awareness and outreach programme. The kind of footprints we left in assisting people is very satisfying,” said the judge.
Justice Lalit also found favour with the idea of reaching out to people who need help instead of waiting for them to approach the courts. “We have Lok Adalat and Nyay Ka Choupal where NALSA seeks out. We reach out to the people and provide the assistance they need in accessing justice or settlement of their disputes,” he pointed out.
The poor in the country seeking free legal aid to fight their cases in courts should have the confidence of getting quality assistance, said justice Lalit, underlining that the lack of confidence in the legal aid system is a gap that needs to be bridged in the years to come.
“A person seeking legal aid has no trust in the inherent legal aid apparatus. Our vision for 2047 (on 100 years of independence) would be to travel beyond awareness and give citizens a sense of confidence. If there is a person who chooses the office of legal aid, he must have confidence that my matter will be done with utmost care and caution. It is for us to ensure what we dispense is quality legal aid,” said justice Lalit.