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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]
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.
- Urgent Need In India To Make Citizens Aware Of Their Legal Rights, Feels Expert (msn.com)
- chapter 3.pdf (legalaffairs.gov.in)