Kumarappa-Reckless Lecture, 1984* "ACCESS TO JUSTICE: SOCIO-LEGAL...
Kumarappa-Reckless Lecture, 1984*
"ACCESS TO JUSTICE: SOCIO-LEGAL SERVICES
SUJATA V. MANOHAR
To secure social, economic and political justice to the people, a nation must have just laws justly administered.
Those who need protection, especially the poor, the weak and the backward, must be in a position to have the
protection of law courts. In this category, a large number of women are also included. The access to justice has
become prohibitively expensive. Owing to this, law has often become impotent to provide safeguards to the
people. Therefore, it is imperative to provide competent free legal help to those whose rights are impinged
upon and who need such help.
Justice (Mrs.) Sujata V. Manohar, High Court, Bombay
"To no one will we sell and
to no one will we refuse or delay,
right or justice"—Magna Carta, Cap. 40
"The State shall not deny to any
person equality before the law or
the equal protection of the laws
within the territory of India".
Art. 14, Constitution of India
Equal protection of laws to all—rich or poor, weak or strong is a basic tenet of our
constitutional philosophy. A nation professing to secure for its people justice—social,
economic and political—must have just laws, justly administered. The laws must be
just and fair and those who need legal protection must be able to resort to the law
courts through which such laws are enforced. The poor, the weak and the backward
must, therefore, be in a position to invoke the protection of the law Courts in order to
secure for themselves the protection which the law gives to them. Unfortunately, the
category of such backward people also includes large segments of women of our
The Doors of The Ritz
All civilised countries have a sophisticated system of dispensing justice. The older
systems of primitive justice do have the charm of arriving at a quick decision. If the
hand of the accused comes out unscathed from boiling oil, the accused is innocent,
otherwise, he is guilty. There are no nagging doubts about the guilt or innocence of
the accused and there is no question of any appeal from a divine verdict. Civilised
*The lectures have been instituted to commemorate the distinguished services rendered by the late Dr. J. M.
Kumarappa (formerly the Director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and Dr. Walter C. Reckless (interna-
tionally renowned criminologist who was associated with the Institute as United Nations Expert in the Field of
Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders).
62 Sujata V. Manohar
societies have, however, evolved a somewhat more sophisticated method of
dispensing justice through their law courts, bearing in mind human frailties. The
principles and procedures laid down for this purpose are meant to ensure a fair trial
and a fair decision. But, in the process, a fair hearing before a court of law has also
become costly. The laws have also become numerous and complex. In fact, the more
ambitious the role of the State, or the greater the desire to establish an egalitarian
social order, the more complex will be the legal framework of the State. To invoke
legal protection, therefore, expert technical guidance of lawyers is needed. Access to
justice becomes expensive. It goes beyond the reach of the poor and the backward—
the very people who may need its protection the most.
It is in this context that legal aid to such persons becomes a pre-requisite of the Rule
of Law. As Reginald Heber Smith, the father of modern legal aid movement said, in
his famous work "Justice and the Poor,"
The substantive law, however fair and equitable itself, is impotent to provide
the necessary safeguards unless the administration of justice, which alone gives
effect and force to substantive law, is, in the highest sense, impartial. It must be
possible for the humblest to invoke the protection of law, through proper
proceedings in the courts for any invasion of his rights by whomsoever
attempted, or freedom and equality vanish into nothingness.
Since the heavy cost of litigation prevents the humble from seeking redress of their
grievances, free legal assistance must be granted to them. It was this heavy cost of
litigation that provoked F. E. Smith to remark, "The doors of the Court, like the doors
of the Ritz, are open to all". If the backward are to enter the Ritz, someone must
agree to foot the bill.
The Philosophy of Legal Aid
There have been two broad streams of thought on the nature and functions of legal
aid, though these streams are now slowly converging. The legal aid schemes of
different countries are structured on the basis of the philosophy of legal aid to which
The original, and classical meaning of "Legal Aid", was giving skilled legal help free to
a poor person desirous of maintaining his rights under the law. It could also involve
giving financial help to an individual who would not, otherwise, be able to meet the
costs of litigation. An individual in need was thus enabled to have access to the
existing system. A number of very effective schemes, in countries such as the U.K.,
are based on this view of legal aid.
The Legal Aid Schemes, based on this philosophy have evolved around the principle
that no one should be deprived of legal assistance though a lack of means. The
English Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949 was framed on this basis, and its principles, as
built into its scheme of legal aid, are summarised by Seton Pollock (1974) as follows:
(a) irrespective of means, there must be access to all courts within the jurisdiction,
and to the legal services, required to make that right effective, including such
advice and assistance as may obviate the need for recourse to a court;
(b) those availing themselves of such facilities should be required to pay towards the
cost of the services received no more than they can reasonably afford (if
anything), having regard to their actual resources;
Access to Justice: Socio-Legal Services for Women 63
(c) the services provided must be of the same standard as apply in respect of those
able to pay their own way, including the right to choose the legal advisor;
(d) the lawyers providing the services, and those responsible for the granting of legal
aid, must remain professionally independent;
(e) no restriction must be imposed, whether upon the lawyer or the assisted client,
save as may be necessary to prevent abuse of the facilities of the scheme;
(f) lawyers should be fairly and reasonably remunerated for the work properly done
under the scheme;
(g) the cost not met by contribution, or otherwise, should be borne by the community.
The legal aid scheme, set up to give effect to these principles, is an integral part of the
system of judicial administration in the U.K.
This view of legal aid proceeds on the basis that it is not for persons involved in
rendering professional legal services to clients—whether paid or unpaid—to work for
law reforms or for improvements in the system, or for the proper administration of
laws. Such tasks are better left to social workers or interested groups, academicians,
legislators and administrators. This is a pragmatic point of view, based on the fact that
most professional lawyers are interested in their professional work and not in
reforming or improving the system. While a number of competent professionals may
be willing to offer their services—free or at lower rates—to help the needy, very few
may be willing to spare the time for reforms. A less ambitious scheme of legal aid is,
therefore, likely to be more workable.
This type of legal aid, however, presupposes a certain level of knowledge or
awareness of their rights on the part of the backward and weak groups in society. It
also presupposes their readiness to assert themselves, and approach the law courts.
These two vital preconditions are often lacking. Hence, a wider view of legal aid has
slowly gained acceptance.
This wider view of legal aid evolved, initially in the U.S.A., and is now gaining ground
in the developing countries. The new concept of legal and socio-legal services has
developed as a result of the strategies adopted by the legal aid workers in the U.S.A.
in order to cope with the difficulties found by them in rendering legal assistance to
the socially and economically underprivileged groups. Such backward and underpri-
vileged groups in the U.S.A., like the blacks and ethnic minorities, faced far more
serious handicaps than the poor in the U.K. Workers involved in giving legal
assistance to such groups realised that much more was required than just aiding
individual litigants of the group. They found that the system of implementation of laws
was loaded against the backward. Initially, a number of independent legal aid
societies had grown up in the U.S.A. (mainly in the cities) to provide free legal
services along the traditional lines. In the early fifties, however, some American
lawyers, involved in the legal aid work, began to feel that the scope of their work was
too narrow and it should also involve securing law reforms through test cases,
initiating class actions and the like. This aggressive tradition did not accept the status
quo. It sought to change the political, economic and social system to the advantage of
the clients by the use of test-case law-reform litigation. The most important among the
early organisations that accepted this strategy were the National Association for the
Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and its subsequent creation, the
NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund (LDF). By 1954, the year of LDF's famous
64 Sujata V. Manohar
victory in the case of Brown V. Board of Education, the organisations had won 34 out
of 38 cases in the Supreme Court.
These victories had an enormous influence on the law reform-cum-legal aid
movement. The victories seemed to illustrate the efficacy of the route of law reform
through the Courts. It seemed as if reforms were achieved with the stroke of the
judicial pen! These decisions also gave great prestige and publicity to the lawyers and
their clients, thus facilitating fund raising and the recruitment of bright young lawyers
to the cause.
There were also other influential groups such as the Civil Liberties Union. Ralph
Nadar stressed the role of the lawyer on behalf of the consumers and environmen-
talists. In the late 1960s and 1970s, foundations began to fund public interest law
firms that engaged in law reforms through law suits. Private bar organisations also
took up this activity. It was in this context that legal services programmes were framed
under the Economic Opportunity Act, 1964. These include neighbourhood law firms,
class action, law reforms and the like.
The wider philosophy of legal aid, therefore, includes not merely legal aid and advice
in individual cases but also working for the enactment of non-discriminatory laws, for
the enforcement of constitutional rights, and for securing the enforcement of existing
laws in favour of the under-privileged groups by various means including the initiation
of class actions. Some spectacular results have been achieved through this
strategy, as in the racial segregation cases.
This wider view of legal aid is bound to find favour in those countries that have social
groups with wide disparities in income, social attitudes and education, but which
have, at the same time, equality under the law. India is such a country. It is but natural
that the wider view of legal aid should find favour in India; it has groups of poor,
backward or underprivileged people, and it also has a legally enforceable code of
human rights under its written constitution.
Women as a Backward Group
When we consider the recipients of such services, one of the groups that comes to
mind at once is women (if they can be called a group). Women of this country must,
unfortunately, be classified, by and large, as an economically and socially backward
group. It is, of course, impossible to talk with any accuracy about women of this
country in general. We are a nation where several centuries co-exist. We have a
complex socio-economic structure where the position of women changes from region
to region, community to community, caste to caste, and even family to family. Yet, by
and large, our women suffer from 3 main handicaps which are interconnected. These
are (1) socially inferior status, (2) lesser education, (3) economic dependence on
father/husband/son. In this respect, there are vital differences in the position of our
women as compared to the women in the West. These differences have a direct
bearing on the socio-legal programmes that are needed for woman here. The main
problem facing women in the West is that of sexual discrimination—in education and
training opportunities, employment opportunities, wages and the like. For women
here, this type of discrimination is less noticeable. Given the requisite qualifications,
women face no discrimination in education and training opportunities, and much less
discrimination in salary scales, promotions and the like. It is also possible that the
severity of socio-economic discrimination against women tends to overshadow and,
therefore, to some extent, hide this type of sexual discrimination here.
Access to Justice: Socio-Legal Services for Women 65
For removal of these socio-economic handicaps, women are turning to law. We, as a
nation, tend to turn to law reforms for bringing about socio-economic reforms. The
current thrust is towards law enforcement through favourable judicial orders. In this
connection, I am afraid that we have not learnt to evaluate the efficacy of this
method of removal of socio-economic handicaps. We are also not prepared to make
the necessary adjustments and expansion in the system of judicial administration if
we are to resort to it frequently.
Resorting frequently to class action or public interest litigation can result in heavy
additional work before already overloaded courts, producing a tremendous strain
on the system of administering justice. It is bound to aggravate delays in the law
courts, and, as a result, can render the judicial system ineffective. Reliance on court
actions for socio-legal reforms, however, is a widely accepted methodology now.
Women, naturally, share this national tendency of resorting to court action to improve
their status. There is some historical justification for this approach because women
have improved their status considerably over a period of time through law reforms.
Women's Status and Law Reforms
The change began with the abolition of 'Sati' in 1729 by Lord Bentinck. Then, in the
present century, over a period spanning more than sixty years, we have had a series
of law reforms, bringing with them a dramatic change in the status of women. Over
this period, social reformers and law have wanted to improve together women's status
e.g. Hindu Widow's Remarriage Act was passed in 1856 and the Child Marriage
Restraint Act in 1929. Then we had the epoch making Hindu Women's Right to
Property Act, 1937, the Hindu Married Women's Right to Separate Residence and
Maintenance Act, 1946. The Hindu Marriage Validity Act, 1949, and the famous four
Hindu Law Reform Acts of 1955-56. We have also had the Dissolution of Muslim
Marriages Act, 1939, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, and the Medical Termination of
Pregnancy Act, 1971. As a result, women have gained considerably in legal stature.
They have also improved their position socially. And they also have the benefit of the
constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the ground of sex, while at the same
time retaining the benefit of protective laws.
Women are, therefore, now turning to the courts to enforce their legal rights and
secure legal protection in such traditional areas as matrimonial disputes, custody
disputes and the like, and in new areas through test-case law-reform litigation. Thus,
in this new area, we have air hostesses challenging unfavourable service conditions, a
top IAS Officer challenging discriminatory service terms, a woman journalist seeking
redress on behalf of women prisoners, women's organisations clamouring for
changes in rape and dowry laws, for better investigation of dowry deaths and the like.
It is in this context that proper socio-legal services for women assume importance.
Limitations on the Efficacy of Law Reforms-cum-Test Cases
Before I go into the types of programmes required for women, I would like to examine
whether the heavy reliance placed by women on laws, legal actions and law reforms,
for amelioration of their condition, is justified or likely to be fruitful. There is, of
course, the past history of success. But, it must be remembered that law reforms in
the past were accompanied by, and were often preceded by, a strong movement for
social reform. The reformist zeal of Raja Rammohan Roy had as much, if not more, to
do with the abolition of Sati than the law. It was in the climate of social reforms generated
by great social reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Maharshi Karve, Mahatma
66 Sujata V. Manohar
Phule, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar and others that Hindu law reforms could take
place. Where such a strong movement for social reform is lacking, legal reforms have
been ineffective. This is precisely why the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 is
ineffective. No amount of legal ingenuity can make the law effective if social will is
lacking to accept and enforce it. Women must, therefore, not ask for law reforms in
isolation. They need to set up action groups to generate the social climate in which
laws can become effective.
The second thrust of women's movement, in the present times, has been in the
direction of the courts to obtain redress of their grievances. It is an attractive, and to
an extent, an easier alternative than campaigning for social reforms or legal reforms,
pressurising legislators into amending laws, or persuading administrators to
implement legal provisions. It is simpler to get a court order asking the administrators
to carry out their obligations. We have the object lesson of the victories won by the
blacks before a sympathetic Warren Court in the U.S.A. Before our own sympathetic
Supreme Court, created, to a large extent, by J. Krishna Iyer and now J. Bhagwati,
women are winning similar victories. It is easier to get a court declaration on women
prisoners, for example, than to get the administration to do their duty of providing
proper prisons for women.
The Supreme Court has also enlarged the concept of Locus Standi,
to enable public
interest groups to litigate on behalf of others. It has permitted letters written from
jails to be treated as petitions and granted reliefs. In this climate, it is natural for
women to turn to the law courts for relief, and, as a necessary corollary, to demand
socio-legal assistance for this purpose.
But there are many limitations to what litigation can accomplish. The U.S. experience
in this area ought to serve us as a warning. The most serious problem with judicial
remedies is the problem of enforcement. Traditionally, courts tend to avoid regulatory
or structural injunctions which involve constant supervision over a long period of
time. Structural injunctions can involve changing of relationships within a group, e.g.
treatment of patients in a hospital or a mental asylum. These are extremely difficult to
enforce. It is possible that in an extreme situation, an activist court may grant an
order involving such constant supervision, or at times, even complete overhaul of
the administrative machinery. But, by and large, the Court will not, because it cannot,
set up elaborate machinery to supervise the carrying out of its order. The courts lack
the machinery to indulge in such tasks. In the case of women undertrials in Bombay
the Supreme Court, for example, had to seek the assistance of the Director of the
Tata Institute of Social Sciences, in her former capacity as the Principal, College of
Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, for handling such a situation. Secondly, the courts
have to depend upon the administrators to carry out their orders. And the
administrators are not always sympathetic. Judicial remedies are effective if (1) the
purpose can be achieved by a preventive or a one time mandatory injunction—e.g.
directing the government to pay a higher pension, or deleting an unfavourable
service condition, (2) effectiveness of judicial remedy depends on the ease with
which the order can be monitored. The Court here has often to rely on the reform
agency which brought the litigation. But orders which require constant and day-to-day
supervision are almost always bye-passed by the administrators who resent court
intrusion into their domain, e.g. in cases involving maladministration of an institution.
Access to Justice: Socio-Legal Services for Women 67
Legal Services Programmes for Women
With these cautionary words, let us examine the type of services that should be made
available to women to improve and enforce their legal rights. Their social, educational
and financial hardships make women specially vulnerable when facing problems
within the family, such as matrimonial conflicts which compel them to resort to law.
Hence, bearing these aspects in mind, the programmes of legal services for women
1. Identifying special problems of women and reaching out to women in need of
2. Special programmes for reaching information to women regarding their legal
rights; this may even involve reaching out to such women as, for example,
women in jails, women in mental asylums, women in purdah—and initiating legal
action on their behalf.
3. Giving relevant information to women regarding their legal rights. This may
include giving talks, or the use of the media, printing and distribution of
pamphlets or articles giving relevant information in simple language.
4. If laws are unsatisfactory, creating a lobby for suitable law reforms.
5. Filing test cases, class action or public interest action in suitable cases.
6. Availability of free or subsidised legal advice, as also services of a lawyer of her
choice to a woman litigant in a deserving case.
7. Financial aid to meet out-of-pocket expenses of litigation.
8. A programme for advice and conciliation in family disputes under which the
parties to the dispute can be summoned, their problem discussed by trained
family counsellors and reconciliation attempted.
9. An emergency cell where women in urgent need of help can go and, if necessary,
stay for some time as also receive legal advice and help e.g. women who are
subjected to physical abuse, women harassed for money or dowry by their in-
laws, women thrown out of their matrimonial homes, women who want protection
for their children who are physically abused, and so on.
10. An information desk where, apart from legal information, women in distress can
get information about women's homes and hostels where they can stay with their
children, if required. The desk can also supply information regarding any jobs or
training for work, available to women.
11. A follow-up service to help women after the completion of the court case.
12. A research cell to compile and analyse the data regarding women's problems
received at the legal aid centres.
Obviously, such a programme of legal services is far more comprehensive than
other similar programmes elsewhere. Such a programme is, however, necessary if
68 Sujata V. Manohar
women and backward groups are to effectively assert their legal rights and to obtain,
in reality, equal protection under the law. It is equally obvious that not all aspects of
the programme require the participation of trained lawyers. Most of the ancillary
work, apart from the actual legal work, can and should be carried out by trained social
workers, para legal workers and even socially committed law students. It is necessary
to work out the programme systematically with a clear demarcation of duties between
these different types of workers. For most of the basic work, right upto taking the case
before the lawyer, social workers with para legal training are essential. It is extremely
important to bear this in mind. It would be highly unsatisfactory, and, at times, even
undesirable, for a lawyer to embark on an investigation of women's problem areas.
He or she lacks both the equipment and the expertise. It would be equally
undesirable for lawyers to reach out to women's groups in backward areas or in
backward groups and attempt to inform them of their legal rights without obtaining
the relevant social data regarding these groups. Each such backward group-
especially a tribal group, has its own social structure and philosophy which may be
beneficial to women in some ways or harmful in other ways. An innocent well-
meaning lawyer may do more harm than good if he attempts to introduce
sophisticated urban values into such a structure. In such areas, trained social workers
must precede the lawyers and legal services, to evaluate the need for such a
programme and prepare the necessary ground for the acceptance of the programme.
Most of the important follow-up work will also have to be done by trained social
So far I have talked mostly of civil laws. But women are also in need for protection
and help in connection with the administration of criminal laws. Women victims of a
crime such as rape face great difficulties in getting justice. Social taboos often
prevent women from even disclosing the crime. Often their testimony is disbelieved
if uncorroborated. It is also found that in such cases, where women are the victims—
as in the case of rape or a dowry murder—police investigation is unsatisfactory. A
special legal services cell created for overseeing the investigation in these vulnerable
areas should go a long way in strengthening the protection of criminal laws to women.
Social workers must oversee such women victims of rape or attempted dowry
murder, before, during, and after trial.
Women are already campaigning for reform of rape laws and dowry laws with some
success. But a greater emphasis on proper police investigation is likely to be more
effective in this area.
Women called for questioning by the police must also be assisted by such a legal cell
so that they are not victimised by the authorities. It is obvious that a vast net-work of
such socio-legal centres is required throughout the country. Both voluntary agencies
and official agencies need to co-operate to accomplish this mammoth task.
A Brief History of Legal Aid in India
It is unfortunate that we have not yet established an effective practical programme of
legal aid, though Article 39A of the Constitution gives such a directive. The Civil
Procedure Code contains provisions for filing of suits in forma pauparis. In the forties
the government of this State had also provided free legal assistance to the members
of the aboriginal and hill tribes of the State and to backward and illiterate agricultural
debtors in connection with the Bombay Agricultural Debt Relief Act. But, by and
large, there was little official legal aid.
Access to Justice: Socio-Legal Services for Women 69
We have, however, had a fairly long history of voluntary legal aid and advice given by
lawyers to indigent litigants. In the State of Bombay, for example, there were legal aid
societies in Bombay, Poona, Ahmednagar, Nasik, Dharwar and Bijapur. The Bombay
Legal Aid Society was incorporated in 1924, and its work was noted by Justice N. H.
Bhagwati Committee on legal aid and legal advice in the State of Bombay, which was
set up in 1949. This committee was set up as a sequel to the U.K. Rushcliffe
Committee Report of 1945. Its goal was "to consider the desirability of giving legal aid
at Government cost to poor persons, to persons of limited means and to persons
belonging to Backward Classes in Civil and criminal proceedings". The Committee's
well-considered report, however, was not implemented.
The work of the voluntary groups was in the doldrums in the fifties. They had neither
the funds nor the organisation needed to render effective legal aid. Women who
needed legal aid were, perhaps, in a slightly better position than other backward
groups because, after women were allowed to enter the legal profession in the 20s, a
number of women's organisations set up legal advice centres for women. These
centres were looked after by the pioneering women lawyers of the time. But they
were located only in urban areas and were too few in number to cope with the need
for legal aid and advice. Voluntary agencies had neither the funds nor the
organisation necessary to run such centres effectively, though at one point of time
one of the centres run by women lawyers in the city had, on its panel of volunteers, 40
lawyers practising in different courts in this city. In the last seven years, however, a
number of voluntary public interest groups have come into being to give free legal
support to the tribals, the poor and the like. Thus, there is the People's Union for Civil
Liberties, Legal Aid Services, West Bengal, and others who are doing excellent work
in this field. A number of lawyers, journalists and activist litigants have fought notable
battles for the poor and the downtrodden. Among them, there are cases of victims of
police brutality such as Bhagalpur blindings, women in mental asylums, undertrial
prisoners, prisoners in jail who are ill-treated, slum-dwellers, child workers and so on.
Voluntary action groups working for women have campaigned for the reform of rape
law, for family courts, for proper prosecution of dowry cases, for proper treatment of
women prisoners. Active consumer organisations have also started resorting to the
The need for legal aid is far greater in criminal cases. In the famous case of
Gideon V. Wainwright, Black J. observed that "in our adversary system of criminal
justice, any person hauled into court who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be
assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him". Unfortunately, in a country with
limited financial resources, it may not be possible to provide such assistance in every
criminal case. In this context, formerly, on the criminal side there was a provision for
employment of a pleader at the expense of the government for the defence of a
person accused of a crime punishable with death.
Now legal aid is given in a wide variety of criminal cases. Under the rules framed by
the Government of Maharashtra, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, legal
aid is made available to every unrepresented accused in a case before a Sessions
Court if the income of the accused does not exceed Rs. 5000/- per annum. A similar
provision is made in respect of accused persons in other criminal courts. Such aid
includes payment of court fees, process fees and other charges, representation, by a
legal practitioner, supply of certified copies of judgements, notes of evidence, etc. and
70 Sujata V. Manohar
drafting of legal documents. For giving such legal aid, a panel of legal practitioners is
maintained. There is, however, much scope for expansion of aid in criminal cases.
Women, however, seldom come to court as perpetrators of crime.
In response to the long-felt need for a legal services programme, two high-powered
national committees were set up in succession to make recommendations relating to
the type of legal aid services that can be set up in this country. The first expert
committee on legal aid was set up under the Chairmanship of Justice Krishna Iyer of
the Supreme Court. It submitted its report in May, 1973. The work was continued by
the committee on judicare set up under the chairmanship of Justice P. N. Bhagwati of
the Supreme Court. Justice Krishna Iyer was also a member of this committee. It
submitted its report in August 1977. This was followed up by constituting a committee
to implement comprehensive legal aid schemes after taking into account the
recommendations of the Bhagwati Committee. This Committee is also chaired by
Justice P. N. Bhagwati. Both these committees have recommended special legal aid
programmes for women.
As a result of this effort, legal aid programmes have been launched by a number of
States. The work has started recently and it has not had a noticeable impact so far.
Though the two reports recommend a comprehensive programme of legal services,
the States, by and large, seem to be content to give free legal assistance on the basis
of a means test to individual litigants. The means test appears to be unduly
restrictive, as the income ceiling is very low; and a number of people who need legal
aid, and cannot afford the services of a lawyer, are needlessly deprived of assistance.
Secondly, these committees have taken the help of official bodies, but do not seem to
have actively aroused the enthusiasm of various Bar Associations in their work,
choosing instead to give legal aid work to a few lawyers. As a result, the schemes at
times fail to generate much public enthusiasm or get professional support on a scale
they ought to get. The legal aid and advice committees have chosen to attach more
importance and publicity to their legal camps and peoples' courts, at times even
suggesting that justice in the law courts is somewhat inferior to what they dispense
in these camps and peoples' courts. This is a somewhat unfortunate stance as it
deprives the movement of much sympathy and support it would otherwise have
received from the legal profession and the judiciary. This sort of emphasis has also
generated a certain amount of scepticism in the public mind. What is more important,
special programmes for women seem to have been lost sight of. The association of
sociologists, or even more so, trained social workers with the programme, also seems
to be a token association. But Bombay can take pride in the fact that it has the only
City Civil Court in the country which has associated with its matrimonial work, a group
of trained social workers—thanks to the cooperation extended by this Institute. The
Bombay High Court was also the first High Court in the country to associate trained
social workers with the work of evaluating guardianship applications from foreigners
in respect of Indian children. This ought to be a precursor to a happy association
between the organisations such as this Institute and the judiciary in carrying out the
work of giving justice to the needy.
There are also some interesting experiments going on in the country under the
auspices of Legal Aid and Advice Schemes such as "peoples' courts" or conciliation
Access to Justice: Socio-Legal Services for Women
proceedings conducted by lawyers. In the same vein, legal camps have been
organised in remoter areas. These are aimed at getting round the heavy backlog of
cases in all courts, as also reaching out to people in need of help. Their effectiveness
has yet to be ascertained. But these experiments are important from a different point
of view. In trying to impart legal information, an expectation is aroused that resorting
to a law court can result in the improvement of the conditions of a backward group.
But a resort to courts may not be a happy experience, especially because the courts
are overcrowded and in no position to decide matters speedily because of heavy
arrears of work. Expectations which cannot be fulfilled may lead to greater frustration.
Of course, a correct response to this situation involves political will on the part of the
government to improve judicial administration by expansion of the courts and
attracting competent and independent judicial personnel. Unfortunately the judiciary
has no control over either an increase in the number of judges, or the expansion of
the court staff, or over financial resources necessary to improve the facilities. Unless
the public campaigns for the improvement and expansion of these facilities, this
correct solution to people's need for speedy justice will be nowhere in sight. But in
this context, if people's courts and conciliation camps can bring about speedy
settlements and prevent cases from reaching the courts, they will have done
yeoman service to the country.
We are at the threshold of an ambitious programme for bringing justice to the
downtrodden. With the manifold skills at our disposal, we ought to be able to evolve
and implement an effective socio-legal programme for the benefit, not merely of
women, but of all our backward social groups.
Government of Bombay Legal
Report of the Committee on Legal Aid and Legal Advice in the State
the Government Central Press.
Government of India
Report of the Expert Committee on Legal Aid; Processual Justice to
Delhi: Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs,
Department of Legal Affairs.
Government of India
Report on National Judicare; Equal Justice, Social Justice;
Delhi: Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, Department of
Graham J. Graham-
Criminal Costs and Legal Aid
Green T. D.
Handler, J. F.
A theory of Law Reform and Social Change: Social Movements
and Legal System;
California: Academic Press.
The English Legal Aid System: Its History and Principles:
Orient Longman Limited.
S. N. Jain
Accountability: in Relation to Directive Principles.
Alternatives in Development: Law the Crisis of the Indian Legal
Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.
Zamans, F. H. (ed)
Perspective on Legal Aid: An Introductory Survey;
The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XLVI, No. 1, (April 1985)