Navigating the Legal Maze: Decoding the Impact of Legal Illiteracy on Indian Citizens

INTRODUCTION

There is a phrase in Latin ignorantia juris non excusat (“ignorance of the law excuses not”), or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (“ignorance of law excuses no one”). Which is also regarded by our justice system. Our justice system does not allow any person to have an excuse for not knowing the law while violating it. This provokes a question that we as a citizen are to what extent aware of our rights? A majority of Indians are not aware of their fundamental and legal rights as enshrined in the constitution. A majority of people do not know what they should do if a police team reaches their homes to detain or arrest them. Unawareness about legal rights has been one of the key reasons behind the violation of fundamental rights of many citizens and thus there is an urgent need to increase legal literacy and legal awareness among the public.

Many individuals refrain from seeking court assistance due to the assumption of high costs involved in hiring a legal representative. As there exists a widespread unawareness regarding individuals right to free legal assistance as guaranteed by Article 39A of the Constitution. This entitlement, falling under the purview of both Article 21 and 39A, stands as an unequivocal right that courts cannot deny. Recognizing the importance of available legal and human rights is crucial, it not only empowers individuals to discern right from wrong and enables them to stand against injustices they encounter but educates others who are unaware. For instance, the enactment of the Sati (Prevention) Act in 1987 aimed to abolish the practice of Sati. Multiple instances demonstrate the government’s response to people’s outcry against injustices, leading to the formulation of laws addressing their grievances.

ACCESSIBLE JUSTICE: THE ROLE OF FREE LEGAL AID IN INDIA

The concept of free legal aid in Morden Indian came when the State of Gujarat formed The Legal Aid Committee in 1971 under the Chair of the Hon’ble Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati and other members. According to him, those who cannot manage the litigation cost should supply a channel where they can access justice without the financial burden. Justice Bhagwati observed that: “Legal aid means supplying an arrangement in the society so that the mission of administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out of reach of those who must resort to it for enforcement… the poor and illiterate should be able to approach the courts, and their ignorance and poverty should not be an impediment in the way of their obtaining justice from the courts. Legal aid should be available to the poor and illiterate, who do not have access to courts. One need not be a litigant to seek aid by means of legal aid”

LEGISLATIVE PROVISION RELATED TO FREE LEGAL AID IN INDIA

Article 39A, introduced by the 42nd Amendment, mandates equal justice and free legal aid in India. It requires the state to ensure a legal system fostering justice based on equal opportunity, offering free legal aid to ensure access to justice despite economic or other barriers.

Section 304 of the Code of Criminal Procedure necessitates state-provided counsel if the accused lacks resources.

Articles 14 and 21(1) of the Constitution demand equality before the law and a legal system promoting justice for all.

The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, established a national legal aid network. The National Legal Services Authority sets policies for cost-effective legal aid programs.

Eligibility for free legal aid, per Section 12 of the Act, extends to women, children, victims of trafficking, scheduled caste, or tribe members, mentally or physically disabled individuals, those in undeserved hardship, and individuals with limited income in specific circumstances.

Senior citizens’ eligibility depends on state government rules. Different states have income ceiling limits specified under Section 12(h) of the Legal Services Authority Act.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS: FOSTERING CONSCIOUSNESS IN INDIA

In the vast tapestry of India’s constitutional framework lies a crucial fabric woven with the threads of fundamental rights. These rights serve as the cornerstone of a democratic society, shaping the contours of individual liberties and ensuring equality for all citizens. While the concept of fundamental rights is entrenched in the Constitution, their awareness is still a pivotal yet overlooked aspect.

[Image Sources: Shutterstock]

Fundamental Right

Understanding one’s entitlements is akin to unlocking a treasure trove of possibilities. In India, these rights encompass a spectrum ranging from the right to equality, freedom of speech and expression, to the right to life and personal liberty. Yet, their true essence often eludes many. The realization of fundamental rights is not just a legal doctrine; it is the cornerstone of a fair society—a society where rights are known, acknowledged, and upheld by all is important.

Summarization of fundamental rights

India’s Constitution initially outlined seven fundamental rights, now reduced to six after the 44th Amendment Act of 1978 removed the right to property.

The Right to Equality (Articles 14-18) ensures unbiased representation, eliminating discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, or financial status. It abolishes ‘Untouchability’ and ‘Titles,’ fostering an egalitarian society.

Article 19 secures six rights: freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, association formation, movement throughout India (excluding Jammu and Kashmir), residence, and profession practice, barring immoral conduct. The state can impose reasonable limits.

Article 20 safeguards accused individuals with three provisions: no retroactive laws, protection from double jeopardy, and no self-incrimination.

Article 21 guarantees the paramount rights to life and personal liberty, while Article 21A mandates free education for children aged six to fourteen. Article 22 supports arrested individuals.

Articles 23 and 24 combat human trafficking, forced labor, and child exploitation, prohibiting minors’ employment in hazardous work.

Article 25 protects freedom of religion, Article 26 safeguards collective religious rights, and Article 27 prohibits taxation for religious promotion.

Articles 28 and 29 preserve cultural rights and prevent discrimination in educational institutions.

Article 30 grants minority groups the right to establish and manage educational institutions in their language.

Charting A Course Forward: Illuminating Paths to Legal Empowerment for Indian Society

As the saying goes that “Knowledge is power” awareness is the key for any person to seek justice, also helping in an efficient way of working of our legal system. As citizens we should be aware of our legal rights and what remedies are provided by our lawmakers. Legal illiteracy in India obstructs justice access and understanding of rights, creating a power disparity between citizens and legal systems. This knowledge gap leads to forfeited entitlements and hurdles in seeking recourse. Despite available legal aid, awareness limitations impede its effectiveness. Addressing this necessitates diverse approaches: widespread education campaigns, simplified legal information dissemination, and leveraging technology for accessibility. Empowering grassroots groups and local leaders becomes pivotal for broader outreach. Ultimately, enhancing legal literacy is not solely about imparting knowledge but instilling empowerment and agency. It is a crucial stride toward upholding justice, equality, and safeguarding rights in India’s diverse societal tapestry. Only through concerted efforts to bolster legal understanding can the nation progress towards a fairer and more equitable society for all citizens.

Author: Rashi Sharma, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email chhavi@khuranaandkhurana.com or at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.

References

  1. https://www.lawyersclubindia.com/articles/are-people-aware-of-their-fundamental-rights–11556.asp
  2. https://www.legalbites.in/topics/articles/all-you-need-to-know-about-legal-aid-in-india-892919
  3. https://www.livelaw.in/columns/ignorance-of-law-in-india-ignorantia-juris-non-excusat-175823?infinitescroll=1
  4. Urgent Need In India To Make Citizens Aware Of Their Legal Rights, Feels Expert (msn.com)
  5. https://blog.ipleaders.in/fundamental-rights-in-the-constitution-of-india/
  6. chapter 3.pdf (legalaffairs.gov.in)

Leave a Reply

Categories

Archives

  • February 2024
  • January 2024
  • December 2023
  • November 2023
  • October 2023
  • September 2023
  • August 2023
  • July 2023
  • June 2023
  • May 2023
  • April 2023
  • March 2023
  • February 2023
  • January 2023
  • December 2022
  • November 2022
  • October 2022
  • September 2022
  • August 2022
  • July 2022
  • June 2022
  • May 2022
  • April 2022
  • March 2022
  • February 2022
  • January 2022
  • December 2021
  • November 2021
  • October 2021
  • September 2021
  • August 2021
  • July 2021
  • June 2021
  • May 2021
  • April 2021
  • March 2021
  • February 2021
  • January 2021
  • December 2020
  • November 2020
  • October 2020
  • September 2020
  • August 2020
  • July 2020
  • June 2020
  • May 2020
  • April 2020
  • March 2020
  • February 2020
  • January 2020
  • December 2019
  • November 2019
  • October 2019
  • September 2019
  • August 2019
  • July 2019
  • June 2019
  • May 2019
  • April 2019
  • March 2019
  • February 2019
  • January 2019
  • December 2018
  • November 2018
  • October 2018
  • September 2018
  • August 2018
  • July 2018
  • June 2018
  • May 2018
  • April 2018
  • March 2018
  • February 2018
  • January 2018
  • December 2017
  • November 2017
  • September 2017
  • August 2017
  • July 2017
  • June 2017
  • May 2017
  • April 2017
  • March 2017
  • February 2017
  • January 2017
  • December 2016
  • November 2016
  • October 2016
  • September 2016
  • August 2016
  • July 2016
  • June 2016
  • May 2016
  • April 2016
  • March 2016
  • February 2016
  • January 2016
  • December 2015
  • November 2015
  • October 2015
  • September 2015
  • August 2015
  • July 2015
  • June 2015
  • May 2015
  • April 2015
  • March 2015
  • February 2015
  • January 2015
  • December 2014
  • November 2014
  • October 2014
  • September 2014
  • August 2014
  • July 2014
  • June 2014
  • May 2014
  • April 2014
  • March 2014
  • February 2014
  • January 2014
  • December 2013
  • November 2013
  • October 2013
  • September 2013
  • August 2013
  • July 2013
  • June 2013
  • May 2013
  • April 2013
  • March 2013
  • February 2013
  • January 2013
  • December 2012
  • November 2012
  • September 2012
  • August 2012
  • July 2012
  • June 2012
  • May 2012
  • April 2012
  • March 2012
  • February 2012
  • January 2012
  • December 2011
  • November 2011
  • October 2011
  • September 2011
  • August 2011
  • July 2011
  • June 2011
  • May 2011
  • April 2011
  • March 2011
  • February 2011
  • January 2011
  • December 2010
  • September 2010
  • July 2010
  • June 2010
  • May 2010
  • April 2010