Saturday, April 17, 2010

Patil for equal justice

- President stresses affordability & access

President Pratibha Patil being welcomed with a japi as Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi looks on in Guwahati on Saturday. (PTI)
Guwahati, April 17: President Pratibha Patil today made a strong case for making litigation affordable and timely, apprehending that lack of opportunities for equitable access to justice could divide society into those who had access to justice and those without it.

Patil spoke of the growing concern about the poor and the disadvantaged not being able to approach the courts for relief without legal aid as litigation had become an expensive option.

To her, a legal system structured on timely delivery, affordable justice and non-cumbersome procedures was best designed to provide access to justice. Along with socio-economic policies and programmes, a holistic and a well-coordinated approach towards access was the need of the hour.

“We must look at how to make justice more affordable, whether in terms of court fees or laywer’s fees. At the same time, we need to make our legal aid system robust, effective and competent. Low level of legal awareness also impede access,” she said in her inaugural address at the two-day conference on Access to Justice and Socio-economic Development of Northeastern States here this morning before a gathering that included senior judges, intellectuals, governors, journalists and lawyers.

Patil’s concerns were earlier raised by Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi and Governor J.B. Patnaik.

Gogoi said he could neither think of approaching the Supreme Court nor the high court to fight a case because of prohibitive fees while Patnaik said judicial courts had “failed” to achieve the twin objectives of cheap and expeditious disposal of cases.

Patil also expressed concern about the large number of cases pending in various courts, which, according to her, should uphold the provisions of the Constitution and ask itself about the role of judiciary in the 21st century.

The President suggested that subordinate courts should use the potential of information technology to post their cause list and case status on websites like the high courts to make the judicial processes more transparent.

Ostensibly to drive home the point that she was familiar with the constraints and problems of the legal system, Patil said she took a “deep” interest in legal affairs as she was a lawyer herself before entering public life. “I have always emphasised two essential points. One, that the rule of law is the very foundation of justice. Secondly, a legal system should not only meet the requirements of individual justice but fulfil the broader role of being an instrument of legal empowerment for society and the nation,” she said.

Patil dubbed the Northeast a “special part of the country, its people brave and hardworking”. “They represent what is India — a diverse nation, which deeply respects pluralism. I can assure you that the development of the region is among the topmost priorities of the nation. NER Vision 2020 is a document that reflects the collective desire to work towards the development and prosperity of the people of the region,” she said.

Earlier, Gogoi in his speech said the President had, during an official dinner yesterday, enquired about the insurgency situation in Assam and how the state was dealing with it. “She had also asked about Naxal insurgency. I said we were according topmost priority to education, health and economic empowerment.”

Patil left immediately after the inaugural function.

The function was followed by sessions on Right to Education: A North Eastern Perspective; North-east and Media; Environment and Sustainable Development; Drug Trafficking and AIDS — Measures of Control; Rights and Maintenance of Senior Citizens; and Terrorism and Human Rights in Northeast.

The panelists unanimously agreed that only a collective effort would help ensure access to justice for all as well as overall development.

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