Equal Justice to All: A Constitutional Mandate

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-Abhimanyu Singh Yaduvanshi, UFYLC, University of Rajasthan.

Legal-Aid-121

Surrounded by new challenges, there is still an ocean of unmet needs[1]. Ensuring equal justice to all, particularly to the poor and weaker section of the society which are far away from the justice because of economic, social and other reasons, is also one of those needs. One of the basic reasons why people are unable to take advantage of various programs, policies and legislations meant for general welfare, is, lack of awareness about the entitlements and access to legal help. The unscrupulous elements take advantage of this situation and the helpless poor stand deprived and exploited.  In this regard, I would like to quote Hon’ble Justice R.V. Ravindaran (Retd.), “Our society is divided mainly into three classes which are Poor class, Middle Class and Elite class. Poor class did not to go to the courts as they are not aware of their rights. Middle class don’t want to go to the court because of such a long process of justice. Elite class doesn’t bother about court because of their money.”

Moreover, equal justice to all is an intrinsic part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its landmark judgment of Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar[2] declared that “Legal aid is really nothing else but equal justice in action. Legal aid is in fact the delivery system of social justice. If free legal services are not provided to such an accused, the trial itself may run the risk of being vitiated as contravening Article 21 and we have no doubt that every State Government would try to avoid such a possible eventuality”.

Article 39A which was given in Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of India provides that the State shall secure that the operation of legal system promotes justice, on the basis of equal opportunity, and shall in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability. Articles 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity to all. Legal aid strives to ensure that constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society.

In M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra[3], it was held, if a prisoner sentenced to imprisonment is virtually unable to exercise his constitutional and statutory right of appeal inclusive of special leave to appeal (to the Supreme Court) for want of legal assistance, there is implicit in the Court under Article 142 read with Articles 21 and 39-A of the Constitution, power to assign counsel for such imprisoned individual ‘for doing complete justice’.

 

An effort was made in 1987 when Legal Service Authority Act was passed by the legislature. As per this Act there is a provision of Legal Aid Committee at National, State and District level. The committees are working in the field of providing justice to all. Still there is a need to encourage more and more programmes like ADR mechanism to reduce the work load of the courts that are highly overburdened. There is a need for awareness camps especially in villages and remote areas, to impart awareness about the enforcement of legal rights. These programmes will help in ensuring equal justice to poor class because it is still a challenge in my opinion.

There is an urgent need therefore for organising legal awareness at large scale and also provide legal aid to needy. Our hierarchical society makes things worse for the uninformed and poor population. The weaker sections or poor classes of the society are highly exploited because of various reasons. They do not have proper awareness of their rights or don’t have the requisite money to fight for their rights. It seeks to promote and ensure protection of legal rights of weaker sections and provide opportunities for securing justice on grounds of poverty and lack of awareness and/or any other disabilities.


[1] Chaturvedi R.G., Law of Writs & other Constitutional Remedies, Part 1, Bharat Law Publication, third edition, 2011, p.839.

[2] 1980 (1) SCC 81.

[3] (1978) 3 SCC 544.