These lawyers take legal aid beyond courtrooms
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.