Legal Aid Has Key Role In Strengthening Justice System: Supreme Court Judge
Justice Khanna was addressing the inaugural session of a regional conference on access to legal aid.
Legal aid has a functional role in strengthening the justice system and it needs to be understood beyond the aid to the needy, Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjiv Khanna said on Monday.
Addressing the inaugural session of a two-day regional conference hosted by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) on access to legal aid, Justice Khanna said the role of government was crucial in promoting the rule of law, access to justice and quality representation.
Giving an overview of the conference, he said this is the first time the heads of the judiciary, heads of law and justice ministries, heads of legal aid bodies and civil society representatives from 70 countries of the Global South came together at an international platform dedicated to the cause of legal aid.
“Legal aid needs to be understood much beyond the aid to the needy. Legal aid has a functional role in strengthening the justice system. It empowers individuals to participate and engage with public institutions and become active and equal stakeholders,” Justice Khanna said.
He said, “Indian Constitution imposes an obligation on the state to provide free legal aid to ensure access to justice to all citizens. In India, the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 forms a backbone of how legal aid accessibility and awareness is structured.”
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 Justice Khanna, the inaugural session was also attended by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court judge Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who is also the Executive Chairman of NALSA, along with Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, Attorney General R Venkataramani and others.
Justice Khanna said the conference has set the stage for a unique collaboration between NALSA, ILF, UNDP and UNICEF.
He said for a child in conflict with the law and for grass-root level work in the juvenile justice system, the work done by UNICEF has been remarkable.
“The role of government is crucial in promoting the rule of law, access to justice and quality representation. They are necessary for the development of strong and independent legal institutions,” Justice Khanna said, adding that governments are entrusted with enacting and implementing inclusive and equitable policies.
He added the conference is designed to arrive at policy, governmental, judicial and grassroots-level solutions to the challenges and to increase access to quality legal aid.
Justice Khanna said the conference comprises 17 sessions which will include two round tables, three preliminary sessions, 10 panel technical sessions along with inaugural and valedictory functions.
Professionals from diverse fields of expertise and social backgrounds will engage in corroborative discussions, he said, adding the chief justices’ round table conference to ensure equal access to justice to all in the Global South chaired by the Chief Justice of India is one of the kind initiatives taken by the conference.
This brings together chief justices of 70 countries of the Global South and it is a rare opportunity to catalyse the exchange of the most effective practices and an insight garnered from years of experience, he said.
Justice Khanna said being a citizen of the Global South “holds a significance in our shared history and experiences, colonial past, poverty, addressing diverse strata of big population, climate change and rapid evolution of public institutions”.
The expanse of the Global South is estimated to be about 80 per cent of the world’s total population. The issues of the Global South are the issues of the world. A platform like this conference gives voice to concerns as well as reflects the strength of the Global South, he said.
During the two-day conference, the key areas for deliberations include developing effective examples of people-centric justice systems, measuring the quality of legal aid services, strategies for reducing pre-trial detention, early access to legal aid in criminal cases, legal aid in civil cases, sustainable funding mechanisms, child-friendly legal aid, etc.
In an earlier statement, NALSA said the conference will bring together chief justices, ministers of justice, legal-aid officers, policymakers and civil society experts from 70 Africa-Asia-Pacific countries of the Global South to discuss the challenges and opportunities in ensuring access to quality legal aid services for the poor and vulnerable.
It has said over 200 delegates will participate in the conference, which includes Chief Justices of Bangladesh, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nepal, Zimbabwe and the minister of justices from Kazakhstan, Nepal, Palau, Seychelles, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Zambia.
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