Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Sunday said the absence of legal awareness was the "root cause" of "deception, exploitation and deprivation" of the rights and benefits of the masses.
He also observed that "awareness" about ones rights and the means of securing them are the "powerful instruments" to bring social and economic progress.
Addressing the valedictory function of the 17th All India Meet of State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) in Nagpur, the CJI said legal services must be constituted to "achieve distributed justice, effective implementation of welfare benefits and elimination of social and structural discrimination against the poor".
In his speech, he also underlined the importance of "legal literacy","technology and acccess" and the "impact and accountability" for delivering the quality legal services.
Justice Gogoi also said the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and State Legal Services Authorities are the "crucial vehicles" for discharging the Constitutional mandate of justice to all on the basis of equal opportunities.
"These bodies have to ensure through their methods that justice reaches the remotest corners of the country and the last person," said the CJI.
Emphasising the need for "legal literacy", Justice Gogoi said, "awareness of ones rights and means of securing those rights are powerful instruments for bringing about social and economic progress. Absence of legal awareness is a root cause of deception, exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits of the masses. Legal literacy and legal awareness go hand in hand".
Justice Gogoi said the "legal aid movement" cannot achieve its goal until people are aware about their legal rights so as their basic rights.
He said "greater awareness" translates into better and broader access.
The CJI observed that contemporary legal education is limited to universities training future lawyers and that it should go beyond awareness.
"Though education on legal topics is in school and college curriculum. It should go beyond awareness. What instead required is movement from near awareness to engagement," the CJI said.
Justice Gogoi further underlined the need to implement legal knowledge for the overall good.
"Efforts must be made to secure concerted engagement of young minds in understanding and utilising that knowledge for the benefit of the society. Not only law colleges but the students of schools and colleges must be included in the outreach programme. Students and young persons have the potential to become the ambassadors of justice," said Justice Gogoi.
He also emphasised the need to focus on "Technology and Access" and the need for customised legal services as per the needs of the people.
"Technology and innovation should be embraced in all aspects of functions on the professionally-managed rendering of legal services at all the levels. It should ensure (delivery of) timely and effective legal services to the needy," said the CJI.
"Let us use technology to provide greater information about legal aid through mobile apps, provide vital information to those seeking legal aid about status of their cases and applications," he said.
The CJI also underlined the importance of "impact and accountability", saying in fact there is no better "mirage" than statistics.
"Right to legal aid means the right to quality legal aid. Commitment to quality must be there in the whole organisation," he said.
To ensure quality, the CJI suggested a rigorous selection process for empanelment of lawyers.
"If need be there selection be made on the lines of the process followed for the selection of public prosecutors. This would go all the way in addressing the complaints of lack of quality," the CJI said.
"This step, to a large extent, (can) also be achieved in addressing the concerns of adequate economic incentives. Currently, it is often told to us that good lawyers keep away because of untimely payment of honorarium," said the CJI.
He added: "Building committed cadres selected through transparent and rigorous process to form away persuasive argument and to enhance and ensure timely payment of honorarium. Regular training should be provided to building capacity among panel lawyers and para-legals".
"To provide quality training, the state legal services authorities must partner with state judicial academies or national law universities and other universities to evolve a comprehensive, innovative and pragmatic training programme," said the CJI.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi that "the first step to achieve justice is to make injustice visible", the CJI said, "Pursuit of justice must involve elimination of injustice, and it is unjust that anyone is denied the opportunity of pursuing their right owing to poverty".
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