IMPROVING CRIMINAL LEGAL AID IN INDIA
18TH and 19TH January 2014
Sarvodaya Hall, St Pious College, Goregaon (E), Mumbai
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees every citizen ‘the right to life’, has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include the provision of free criminal legal aid to every indigent person. The Legal System in India, although rich in many ways, is still a nightmare to several in prisons who seek justice through it. The inaccessibility of the poor to lawyers, an almost absent pro-bono culture, the complexity of the system, the inordinate delays, the lack of adequate legal training, corruption and a failure to implement the law, are some of the problems that the system is riddled with. Yet, in the midst of these, we must believe that systemic change is possible.
A 2012 year-end report of the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, has held 66.2% of various types of prison inmates to constitute ‘under trials’. In the State of Bihar, at the end of 2012, there were 24,389 under trial prisoners and 4108 convicted prisoners in prisons across the State. These Statistics speak volumes for the lack of access to Legal Aid.According to Mr. Alexander Jacob, Ex - Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services, Kerala, at least 20 percent of Prison inmates are not guilty and behind bars due to lack of access to Legal Aid.
There is an acute need to bring in mechanisms to encourage lawyers to provide Legal Aid, either privately or through the government system. Reform in the access to Criminal Legal Aid will be vital in ensuring two equally footed lawyers present a fair trial.