These lawyers take le­gal aid be­yond court­rooms

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY - Aamir.Khan2@ times­

New Delhi: When she saw a fam­ily all at sea in the court cor­ri­dors, ad­vo­cate An­jali Ra­jput stepped in to of­fer free le­gal aid. Like her, over 130 ad­vo­cates on the panel of the Delhi State Le­gal Ser­vices Au­thor­ity (DSLSA) of­fer much-needed help to cit­i­zen lit­i­gants in Delhi's11dis­tricts, not only in court­rooms, but also through aware­ness camps in schools, slums, po­lice sta­tions and other pub­lic spa­ces.

“Lit­i­ga­tion is only one of the many as­pects of free le­gal as­sis­tance,” ex­plained Chan­der­jit Singh, sec­re­tary of New Delhi district’s le­gal ser­vices au­thor­ity. “There’s coun­selling, out of court set­tle­ments, le­gal guid­ance too.” Peo­ple deemed el­i­gi­ble un­der the Le­gal Ser­vices Au­thor­i­ties Act,1987, read with Reg­u­la­tion 9 of the Delhi Le­gal Ser­vices Au­thor­ity Reg­u­la­tion, 2002, can take the help of the panel.

All women, chil­dren, SC/ST and dis­abled per­sons can ac­cess this free help. Be­sides, se­nior cit­i­zens whose annual in­come is less than Rs 2 lakh are also el­i­gi­ble for help, as are men who earn less than Rs 1 lakh a year and trans­gen­der per­sons who earn less than Rs 2 lakh.

DSLSA hopes to widen this scope. “We will soon have the se­nior cit­i­zen limit in­creased to Rs 4 lakh. Sim­i­larly, the cap for men will be in­creased to Rs 3 lakh and for trans­gen­der per­sons to Rs 4 lakh,” Singh re­vealed.

The le­gal ser­vices au­thor­ity has pre­pared a panel of ad­vo­cates to lit­i­gate in district courts on be­half of per­sons need­ing aid. There are sep­a­rate pan­els of ad­vo­cates for metropoli­tan mag­is­trate courts (MM), ses­sion courts, civil courts, ad­di­tional district judges courts (ADJ) and fam­ily courts. These ad­vo­cates are paid by DSLSA.

Ra­jput, who is on MM panel and han­dles crim­i­nal cases as a le­gal aid lawyer, said, “We have to be at our best when of­fer our help. We can­not af­ford to be se­lec- tive, and there is no room for com­pla­cency just be­cause we are pro­vid­ing free le­gal as­sis­tance.” Sarika Jet­ley Kochar con­curs with Ra­jput, be­liev­ing that help­ing the lit­i­gants in this man­ner makes her a more re­spon­si­ble ci- ti­zen. There have been in­stances when a lit­i­gant has looked up to Kochar as a saviour of sorts.

“You’re as­sist­ing those who can­not af­ford pri­vate lawyers,” as­serted Deep­anker Mo­han­who is on the ses­sions court panel and of­ten vis­its jail in­mates. ADJ panel coun­sel Ruchi Khu­rana added that pro­vid­ing le­gal aid for peo­ple from hum­ble eco­nomic back­grounds was a great learn­ing op­por­tu­nity for new lawyers, given the ar­ray of cases one got to han­dle.

Le­gal aid ser­vices works in two ways in Delhi — when lit­i­gants ap­proach DSLSA di­rectly or when a le­gal aid lawyer meets the lit­i­gant in MM courts. Courts of­ten play an ac­tive role by in­form­ing DSLSA about the re­quire­ment for free le­gal as­sis­tance by a lit­i­gant. The only cau­tion is to en­sure help to those who re­ally need it. As Kochar pointed out, some­times the scheme for free as­sis­tance is some­times mis­used by those who can af­ford pay­ing lawyers’ fees.

DSLSA has 50 le­gal ser­vices clin­ics with para­le­gal vol­un­teers and lawyers in Delhi. They are present at the courts, jails, ju­ve­nile jus­tice boards, child wel­fare com­mit­tees, ob­ser­va­tion homes, All In­dia Le­gal Aid Cell on Child Rights, Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Mi­nori­ties, the chief min­is­ter’s res­i­dence-cum-of­fice and the In­sti­tute of Hu­man Be­hav­iour and Al­lied Sciences. In 2017, 38,646 peo­ple ben­e­fited from the scheme.

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