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This article is written by Ankita Sharma, from National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi.

Introduction

Legal literacy is generally known as having the primary knowledge of the law. People, especially from underprivileged or marginalized sections, can identify and question against the wrongful act much more efficiently when they understand what the law has to offer them. The first move towards this legal transformation in society is legal literacy. India currently has around 287 million illiterate adults, the largest population globally which constitute 37% of the world total. A significant part of India’s population (around 35%) has no formal education. Most of these people are from rural backgrounds, where Socio-Economic factors influence to keep the weakest strata of society illiterate. Here human rights education and legal literacy play the most effective and efficient roles to build up the social fabric for a strong democracy. 

Access to legal aid services has been defined as an indispensable part of human and fundamental rights. Article 39A of the Indian Constitution obliges the State to make certain the effectiveness of the legal system to promote justice as part of equal opportunity. It requires the State to implement free legal aid services with the help of suitable legislation or schemes. The State also requires to secure opportunities and ensure that justice is not denied to anyone because of their economic or other incapacities. Around 8.22 lakh people across India benefited through legal aid services from April 2017 to June 2018. The awareness of rights and duties makes it easier to deliver justice and balance the various interests of society. Legal literacy eventually helps to grow a transparent and responsible administration with the ‘Rule of Law’.

The international and municipal statutory instruments have also shaped the Apparatus of legal aid services. On the other hand, Judiciary has been constantly promoting free legal aid services and access to speedy and economic justice for the downtrodden strata of the society. But the main question that is rising frequently among us is “How far have the services of legal aid efficiently been provided and whether the beneficiaries of the legal aid services are satisfied from the quality of services provided or not? In this article, we will discuss a few broad parameters: effective practices of the Legal Literacy Clubs, the reach of their services and the lack of trust over the services by the beneficiaries of legal aid. The empirical research is mainly based on the database available online such as feedback from the beneficiaries of the legal aid services and the regulators of the Delhi Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) and also provided some viable solutions to overcome hindrances and to promote the quality of legal aid services.

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Delhi State Legal Services Authority

The State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) has been constituted by every State to implement the directions and policies of the National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA). The prime objective of SLSA is to provide free legal aid services to the poor, vulnerable and marginalised section of the society and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. “The Patron-in-Chief of the State Legal Services Authority, who is Hon’ble the Chief Justice of the respective High Court, heads the SLSA. A serving or retired Judge of the High Court is nominated as its Executive Chairman”.

Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) has been created to provide legal aid services and control the legal aid system in Delhi. Delhi State Legal Services Authority erstwhile Delhi Legal Aid & Advice Board has been constituted by an Act of Parliament passed under “The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 as amended by Legal Services Authorities (Amendment) Act, 2002, to provide free and competent legal service to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen due to their economic or other disabilities and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.

For accelerating Legal Awareness Campaign in Delhi, the following measures have been taken by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority:

  • Legal Literacy or legal Awareness Camps
  • Seminars
  • Implementation of Legal Literacy Missions
  • Advertising through print and electronic Media

Most of the people from rural backgrounds are not aware of the rights conferred upon them by law. Even a large section of the literate people residing in the cities and villages are not aware of what are their rights and entitlements under the law. It is this lack of legal awareness which is responsible for the exploitation, deception and deprivation of rights and benefits, from which the people suffer. This miserable state can be alleviated by creating legal awareness amongst the people. DSLSA has been putting efforts in a multi-pronged manner to reach maximum people for spreading legal awareness by making optimal use of Legal Services Clinics. In its continued coordination with Mission Convergence, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, Delhi State Legal Services Authority has utilized Stree Shakti Suvidha Kendras (SSSKs) and Gender Resource Centres (GRCs) for setting up its Legal Services Clinics. DSLSA has also set up Legal Services Clinics in Educational Institutions like Universities & Colleges in Delhi.

Apart from these Legal Services Clinics, this Authority has also set up Legal Services Clinics at Juvenile Justice Boards, Child Welfare Committees, Legal Aid Cell on Child Rights, Jails and Observation Homes. There are 11 District Legal Services Authorities established under section 9 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 as amended by the Legal Services Authorities (Amendment) Act, 2002. These 11 District Legal Services Authorities are functional in all the 6 Court Complexes which are as under:

S. No

Authority

Court

1.

Central DLSA

Tis Hazari Courts

2.

West DLSA

Tis Hazari Courts

3.

New Delhi DLSA

Patiala House Courts

4.

East DLSA

Karkardooma Courts

5.

North-East DLSA

Karkardooma Courts

6.

Shahdara DLSA

Karkardooma Courts

7.

North DLSA

Rohini Courts

8.

North-West DLSA

Rohini Courts

9.

South-West DLSA

Dwarka Courts

10.

South DLSA

Saket Courts

11.

South-East DLSA

Saket Courts

 

Effective Practices of Delhi State Legal Services Authority

  • Partnership with Mission Convergence Programme

Mission Convergence Programme aims to enhance the quality of life of citizens. It was begun mainly for the most exposed and marginalized sections of society. The principal objective of the programme is to ensure the effective entitlements flow to the people through a one-way system in a smooth manner. The Government of Delhi and the Delhi Legal Services Authority work as partners in this programme. Gender Resource Centres (GRCs) have been established all over Delhi to give assistance on issues such as health & wellness, sanitation, legal empowerment, etc. The legal empowerment part is done by the Delhi Legal Services Authority. Their lawyers sit in the Gender Resource Centres and assist with various legal issues such as domestic violence, maintenance, matrimonial disputes, property, etc. They visit the Centre three times a month. People can directly discuss their cases and the lawyers first try to fix the problem through counselling. But in the later stage, the matter is referred for litigation through the Delhi LSA.

In court, the Delhi Legal Services Authority offers legal assistance to the persons qualified for legal aid under Section 12 of the LSA Act and Rules. The Member Secretary visits the GRC from time to time, checks the files, analyses the performance of the lawyers and gives feedback. If there is a complaint against any lawyer, the Delhi Legal Services Authority conducts an enquiry and record statements of both sides. After getting the essential details, if the lawyer is found guilty, he or she is removed from the panel and the Bar Council is also notified about this development. There is an allocation of Legal Aid budget under the Mission Convergence Programme and the charges of the lawyers are met under this assigned budget. In the litigation matter, the Delhi Legal Services Authority supports the costs of the case.

  • Training Programme of Panel Lawyers 

The Delhi Legal Services Authority routinely arrange training sessions for their panel lawyers. Resource persons involve retired or sitting judges and senior lawyers. The course content covers civil and criminal matters and the training duration depends on the assigned topics. Lawyers can get training on their preferred topics. The Delhi LSA also arranges law books for panel lawyers from the court library. The costs of these training are endured by the Delhi SLSA. 

  • Paralegal Training 

The Delhi State Legal Services Authority has three classes of paralegals:

  1. Community Paralegals: They are appointed by the Delhi SLSA with the advice of GRC Coordinators and are prepared in 24 sessions over 6 months. Matters of their training session ranges from different areas such as governance structures, the rights of the vulnerable (Dalits, tribals, children, women, people with disabilities, people living with HIV/ AIDS), their fundamental rights, food rights, RTIs, criminal law processes, redress mechanisms, etc.
  2. Student Paralegals: They are picked from the group of enthusiastic university students ready to serve society. They are guided for two days by the SLSA lawyers and Member Secretary. 
  3. Jail Inmates Paralegals: They are chosen from the group of jail inmates. The Delhi State Legal Services Authority officials by visiting the jail, classify the paralegals on two criteria:

(i) those who are expected to remain in the jail for a long time, and 

(ii) their enthusiasm to offer guidance to jail inmates on legal matters.

“DSLSA conducts Para Legal Volunteers Training Programmes from time to time for Law students, social workers, jail inmates, Senior Citizens, Victims of Drug Abuse etc. Till 30th April 2019, DSLSA has trained 5415 PLVs. DSLSA has allocated around 2329 PLVs to its DLSAs for taking their services on a rotation basis.” They are guided by the Member Secretary and other Delhi LSA officials and the expenses for these paralegal training are covered by the funding from NALSA. The authority is using their assistance in Front Desk Work, Counselling of Rape Survivors, Lok Adalat, Legal Awareness Programmes at Legal Literacy Clubs, Scheme for Unorganized Sector and etc.

  • Internship Programme 

The foremost goal of this programme is to make students aware of socio legal realism. Delhi State Legal Services Authority receives a list of interested students by the colleges for the internship. In 2011 there were approximately 200 students under this internship programme with a duration of four weeks. The interns receive an honorarium of Rs. 1,000/- and assist in organizing Lok Adalats, legal awareness camps, seminars,  courts visits and GRCs etc. Generally, there are a large number of cases appearing to the Delhi State Legal Services Authority during this internship period, which create positivity in both the efficiency of the programme and the energy of the students.

  • Help to the rape victim 

Delhi State Legal Services Authority also offers guidance to rape survivors by collecting the copy of FIRs from the police station and provide require legal help.

  • Missing child 

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India on 10th May 2013 had directed the formulation of a Standard Operating Procedure for cases of Missing Children. In this direction, Delhi State Legal Services Authority formulate a wing to handle the data of missing children from the police stations and keeps a track on the progress of the case.

  • Video Conferencing in Jail 

Delhi State Legal Services Authority has set times for video conferencing with prisoners to offer legal assistance. The prisoners express and share their problems through video conferencing. Daily jail visits of panel lawyers provide legal help to inmates. Those inmates who were not able to pay the bond amount after getting bail, have been released by them on personal bond. In 2017 the National Informatics System (NIC), has developed a master software in which State Legal Services Authorities and District Legal Services Authorities would maintain data of each inmate within their jurisdiction, about their being represented through counsel in the court. The software would cover the information of the name of the jail, prisoners, date from which he or she is in custody, the offence and important facts whether the inmates are represented by a lawyer or not. If an inmate is unrepresented, then the district legal services authority would provide him with a panel lawyer.

Analysis of the primary data and feedbacks collected from the beneficiaries of Legal aid services in Delhi

Free legal aid services for downtrodden strata of the society to provide access to justice have been acknowledged as an essential part of the Constitutional Mandate. Many statutory instruments such as the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 have been enacted to achieve the objectives of the free legal aid services in India.

The report did follow the Stratified sampling method for the collection of primary data from the online database of key stakeholders of the legal aid services such as the Legal Aid Counsels, beneficiaries, judicial officers’ regulators and other interested parties, in 11 Districts Courts in Delhi and Delhi High Court. The primary data was collected from 702 beneficiaries of legal aid services and 11 Regulators (Member Secretaries) of the Delhi Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) in Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee.

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  • Details of the Respondents beneficiaries

Court

 

Disabled

Income

SC

Sr. Citizen

Women

Others

Total

Central

Count

0

33

4

2

48

5

92

% of total

.0%

4.7%

.6%

.3%

6.8%

.7%

13.1%

East

Count

0

4

2

2

19

16

43

% of total

.0%

.6%

.3%

.3%

2.7%

2.3%

6.1%

High Court

Count

1

25

0

0

42

0

68

% of total

1%

3.6%

.0%

.0%

6.0%

.0%

9.7%

New Delhi

Count

1

11

1

0

35

6

54

% of total

1%

1.6%

.1%

.0%

5.0%

.9%

7.7%

North

Count

1

14

2

1

35

0

53

% of total

1%

2.0%

.3%

.1%

5.0%

.0%

7.5%

North

East

Count

0

12

1

0

24

0

37

% of total

.0%

1.7%

.1%

.0%

3.4%

.0%

5.3%

North West

Count

2

10

4

0

31

1

48

% of total

.3%

1.4%

.6%

.0%

4.4%

.1%

6.8%

Shahadra

Count

1

16

3

0

48

0

68

% of total

1%

2.3%

.4%

.0%

6.8%

.0%

9.7%

South

Count

0

17

0

0

24

2

43

% of total

.0%

2.4%

.0%

.0%

3.4%

.3%

6.1%

South East

Count

1

12

0

0

27

6

46

% of total

1%

1.7%

.0%

.0%

3.8%

.9%

6.6%

South West

Count

0

34

6

1

63

5

109

% of total

.0%

4.8%

.9%

.1%

9.0%

.7%

15.5%

West

Count

0

9

1

0

25

6

41

% of total

.0%

1.3%

.1%

.0%

3.6%

.9%

5.8%

Total

Count

7

197

24

6

421

47

702

% of total

1.0%

28.1%

3.4%

.9%

60.0%

6.7%

100.0%

  • Reasons given by the Beneficiaries for opting for Legal aid services

Courts

No resources to hire  private lawyer

Quality of legal services

Friend/ Relative advised from LA

Others

No opinion

Total

 

Central

Count

87

1

2

0

2

92

% in total

12.4

.0

.3

.0

.3

13.1

East

Count

34

0

2

2

5

43

% in total

4.8

.0

.3

.3

.7

6.1

High Court

Count

63

0

2

2

1

68

% in total

9.0

.0

.3

.3

.1

9.7

New Delhi

Count

46

1

6

1

0

54

% in total

6.6

.1

.9

.1

.0

7.7

North

Count

46

2

1

2

2

53

% in total

6.6

.3

.1

.3

.3

7.5

North East

Count

34

1

0

2

0

37

% in total

4.8

.1

.0

.3

.0

5.3

North West

Count

42

1

4

0

1

48

% in total

6.0

.1

.6

.0

.1

6.8

Shahadra

Count

67

0

0

0

1

68

% in total

9.5

.0

.0

.0

.1

9.7

South

Count

40

0

0

1

2

43

% in total

5.7

.0

.0

.1

.3

6.1

South East

Count

42

0

2

0

2

46

% in total

6.0

.0

.3

.0

.3

6.6

South West

Count

100

2

5

1

1

109

% in total

14.2

.3

.7

.1

.1

15.5

West

Count

38

0

0

0

3

41

% in total

5.4

.0

.0

.0

.4

5.8

Total

Count

639

8

24

11

20

702

% in total

91.0

1.1

3.4

1.6

2.8

100.0

Comments

It is evident from the table that more than 60% of women beneficiaries and 37 % of male beneficiaries have been interviewed. The major objectives are to assess the competency and commitment of legal aid counsels by other stakeholders involved in legal aid services in different capacities. 

It has been observed from the facts that legal aid services are provided without any charges, free of cost, or rather funded by the state under the Constitutional mandate. However, the bitter truth is that people are not so interested in free legal aid services because of the quality and commitments of the service providers. People’s perception is also reflected in the abovementioned data from the Beneficiaries. It is evident from the data that the 96 % of the beneficiaries opted for legal services on the ground that they had no resources to hire private counsels for their litigation.  If these litigants had resources to engage private legal practitioners, they would not have approached for the free legal aid services to the DSLA offices in Delhi. 1.1% of the total (8/702) have approached the legal aid services only because of the quality of legal aid services provided by the LACs.

  • Beneficiaries approaching a private lawyer before the free legal aid

Courts 

Yes

No

No Opinion

Total

Central

Count

23

69

0

92

 

% of total

3.3%

9.8%

.0%

13.1%

East

Count

25

13

5

43

% of total

3.6%

1.9%

.7%

6.1%

High Court

Count

15

52

1

68

% of total

2.1%

7.4%

.1%

9.7%

New Delhi

Count

15

37

2

54

% of total

2.1%

5.3%

.3%

7.7%

North

Count

16

34

3

53

% of total

2.3%

4.8%

.4%

7.5%

North East

Count

7

29

1

37

% of total

1.0%

4.1%

.1%

5.3%

North West

Count

11

34

3

48

% of total

1.6%

4.8%

.4%

6.8%

Shahadara

 

Count

16

49

3

68

% of total

2.3%

7.0%

.4%

9.7%

South

Count

20

21

2

43

% of total

2.8%

3.0%

.3%

6.1%

South East

Count

19

25

2

46

% of total

2.7%

3.6%

.3%  

6.6%

South West

Count

35

69

5

109

% of total

5.0%

9.8%

.7%

15.5%

West

Count

16

25

0

41

% of total

2.3%

3.6%

.0%

5.8%

Total

Count

218

457

27

702

% of total

31.1%

65.1%

3.8%

100.0%

Comments

The above-mentioned table is a reflection of the dearth of resources and the arrangement of legal aid services. The data has depicted that more than 65% of the beneficiaries opted for legal aid services without engaging a private legal practitioner, because of lack of finance or resources. Furthermore, 35% of the total beneficiaries who had appointed private legal practitioners moved to legal aid services after exhausting all possible resources. The trend of giving low priority to legal aid services is also reflected in all 11 districts and Delhi High Court. Beneficiaries are driven by lack of funding and not by the nature or quality of free legal aid services. It is logically inferred that more than 95% of the beneficiaries have been compelled due paucity of funds to look for the legal aid services. This is one of the main reasons for the beneficiaries to apply for free legal aid services.

  • Instances of availing the free legal aid services in the past

Courts

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

No Reponse

Total

Central

Count

79

4

0

0

0

9

92

% of total

11.3%

.6%

.0%

.0%

.0%

1.3%

13.1%

East

Count

30

0

2

2

0

9

43

% of total

4.3%

.0%

.3%

.3%

.0%

1.3%

6.1%

High Court

Count

65

0

2

0

1

0

68

% of total

9.3%

.0%

.3%

.0%

.1%

.0%

9.7%

New Delhi

Count

47

4

1

0

1

1

54

% of total

6.7%

.6%

.1%

.0%

.1%

.1%

7.7%

North

Count

49

3

0

0

0

1

53

% of total

7.0%

.4%

.0%

.0%

.0%

.1%

7.5%

North East

Count

36

1

0

0

0

0

37

% of total

5.1%

.1%

.0%

.0%

.0%

.0%

5.3%

North West

Count

44

3

0

0

0

1

48

% of total

6.3%

.4%

.0%

.0%

.0%

.1%

6.8%

Shahadra

Count

62

4

0

0

0

2

68

% of total

8.8%

.6%

.0%

.0%

.0%

.3%

9.7%

South

Count

32

4

2

0

0

5

43

% of total

4.6%

.6%

.3%

.0%

.0%

.7%

6.1%

South East

Count

31

5

2

1

1

6

46

% of total

4.4%

.7%

.3%

.1%

.1%

.9%

6.6%

South West

Count

97

7

0

0

0

5

109

% of total

13.8%

1.0%

.0%

.0%

.0%

.7%

15.5%

West 

Count

27

3

3

0

0

8

41

% of total

3.8%

4%

.4%

.0%

.0%

1.1%

5.8%

Total

Count

599

38

12

3

3

47

702

% of total

85.3%

5.4%

1.7%

.4%

.4%

6.7%

100.0%

Comments

According to the data collected from the beneficiaries of legal aid services, it is observed that 85.3 % of beneficiaries have tried legal aid services for the first time. The trend is the same in every district including Delhi High Court. Whereas in other cases of beneficiaries availing legal services more than one time, covers hardly 7.9% of the total respondents and 6.7 have expressed no opinion on the issue. It is logically presumed by taking into account above motioned tables on reasons for opting legal aid services and the current table on several instances for engaging legal aid counsels, that after having gone through the experience of dealing with the system of Legal Services Authority once, they hardly or rarely try for legal aid services again. The same may also be corroborated by other data, where the beneficiaries were reluctant to try legal aid services second time or so voluntarily, but would be forced to join legal aid services for the litigation due to lack of financial resources. It is also important to reiterate and recapitulate that speedy and economical justice in India, is a myth, not realty.

  • Rating of the Legal Aid Services by the Beneficiaries

Courts

No interaction & No Response

Very satisfied

Satisfied

Not satisfied

Very dissatisfied

No opinion

Total

Central

34

4

28

12

7

7

92

East 

16

2

20

0

2

3

43

High Court

41

3

15

7

0

2

68

New Delhi

19

2

14

16

1

2

54

North

19

3

15

12

2

2

53

North East

20

0

8

6

2

1

37

North West

24

2

16

4

1

1

48

Shahadra

31

5

19

5

4

4

68

South

27

3

9

3

0

1

43

South East

19

3

15

5

4

0

46

South West

52

7

19

25

5

1

109

West 

18

3

17

0

0

3

41

Total

320

37

195

95

28

27

702

Comments

When the beneficiaries of legal aid services were inquired about the level of satisfaction about the consultation and interaction with the Legal Aid Counsels, a good amount of respondents refused to express any opinion at all and 27.8% were satisfied from the consultation. Nevertheless, 13.5% were very dissatisfied from the quality of support from the Delhi Legal services authority.

Findings of the Report

  • Beneficiaries of Legal Aid Services approach for the services due to lack of resources to hire paid private legal practitioners. 
  • There exists a broad difference between the expert assistance of the Private legal practitioners and the Legal Aid Counsels.
  • Under the Existing System of Legal Aid Services the lack of Responsibility of the Legal Aid Counsels has diluted the quality of legal services.
  • Lack of implementation of a monitoring system over the services of the Legal Aid Counsels in the Delhi DLSAs has led to inefficient governance.

Recommendations of the Report

  • Formulation of Permanent Monitoring Committees.
  • Strict Empanelment System for the Legal Aid Counsels.
  • Implementation of a system of feedbacks from the judicial officers and beneficiaries on the commitment and competency of the Legal Aid Counsels.
  • For providing efficient legal aid services, outline quality infrastructural facilities for the 11 Delhi DLSAs.
  • To provide quality services and maintain accountability, conduct unified operations and maintenance of proper public reports and data records.

References

[1] Global Education Monitoring Report Team, Education For All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2019 by UNESCO ( 2nd Ed. 2018).

[2] Economic Division, Ministry of Finance, Economic Survey 2014-15 (2015), https://www.india.gov.in/economic-survey-2014-15

[3] National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), Statistics, https://nalsa.gov.in/statistics

[4] Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), http://dslsa.org/

[5] Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), History, http://dslsa.org/about-us/history/

[6] National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), Acts & Rules, https://nalsa.gov.in/acts-rules

[7] Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), Annual Report 2012-2014 (7.3.2015), http://www.dslsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/8th-Annual-Report-1st-April-2012-31st-March-2014.pdf

[8] Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), PARA LEGAL VOLUNTEERS (PLVS), http://dslsa.org/legal-literacy-wing/para-legal-volunteers-plvs/

[9] Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), SCHEMES OF DSLSA, http://dslsa.org/scheme-of-dslsa/

[10] Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), Standard Operating Procedure For Tracing Missing Children, (23.11.2016),  http://dslsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/SOP-for-Tracing-Missing-Children-24.4.17.pdf

[11] Empirical Report under the UGC Research Award in Law 2012-14, (17 March 2017)


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