By Syed Shadab Ali Gillani
In an effort to address the significant backlog of pending civil and criminal cases in Jammu and Kashmir, legal aid clinics have been established as part of a mega project on ‘Establishment, Revival and Operation of Legal Aid Clinics in Kashmir.’ Dr. Mohammad Yasin, Senior Assistant Professor at the School of Law, University of Kashmir, has been granted the project by the Government of India, with the aim of making legal remedies more accessible to the common person.
The statistics from the National Judicial Data Grid reveal a staggering number of pending cases in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court alone, with 36,996 civil cases and 7,730 criminal cases. When district courts are taken into account, the number of pending cases is estimated to be much higher.
Recognizing the need to provide free legal aid to ensure access to justice for all Indian citizens, Article 39A of the Indian Constitution categorizes legal aid as a fundamental right.
The legal aid clinics established under this project, in accordance with the National Legal Services Authority (Legal Aid Clinics) Scheme, 2010, aim to make legal assistance available to the poor and underprivileged members of society. These clinics prioritize fundamental legal services such as legal advice, assistance in writing notifications, responses, applications, petitions, and conflict resolution at the local level.
Dr Yasin, the director of the project, emphasized the goal of increasing legal literacy among people and providing legal advice to those who lack access to justice due to their financial situation.
“The main aim behind this project is to increase legal literacy among people and to provide legal advice to people. More focus will be on the rural areas and especially on the marginalised section of society, who don’t have access to justice as they are less privileged when it comes to legal services, these clinics provide free or low-cost legal advice and representation to those who cannot afford it. They play a crucial role in ensuring access to justice for all individuals, regardless of their financial situation,” said Dr Yasin.
Dr Yasin stated that this project is going to bring change at the grass root level as they are trying to reach every corner of Kashmir.
“I am from a village and I am aware of the fact that people in rural areas need more legal advice and counselling when it comes to legal matters. In order to reach more public, we have established five legal aid clinics, one at the University of Kashmir and rest four in affiliated law colleges and each legal clinic will cover two districts. In this project we have 25 para-legal volunteers and 10 pro-bono members who all are law students all of them will be working on this project and each one of them will be provided with a stipend of Rs 1000 per month,” he said.
The establishment of legal aid clinics is aligned with the objectives of the Constitution of India. The State Legal Services Authority of Jammu and Kashmir provides free legal services to the weaker sections of the community, ensuring equal opportunities for securing justice.
To achieve the objectives of the Constitution of India, UT of J&K has constituted the State Legal Services Authority to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the community.
In the Year 1997, The J&K State Legal Aid and Advice Board was repealed by Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Services Authority Act 1997, which provided for the establishment of State Legal Services Authority, High Court Legal Services Committee, District Legal Services Authorities and Tehsil Legal Services Committees to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker section of the society and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen for any reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organise Lok Adalats to ensure that the operation of the Legal System promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunities.
The involvement of students in this project is what makes it different. These legal aid clinics are beneficial for law students as they provide them with an opportunity to gain practical experience in the legal field, working on real cases under the supervision of experienced lawyers.
“The students will be more active in providing legal literacy and legal advice, but in the court of law, they cannot argue on behalf of clients. In court, the clients will be represented by the panel lawyers who are part of this project and all the student volunteers will be assisting them,” said Yasin.
On the inaugural function of the project, the Chief Justice highlighted the vital role law students can play in spreading legal awareness and enhancing the effectiveness of legal aid clinics. The hands-on experience gained through these clinics enables law students to develop their legal skills and deepen their understanding of the challenges faced by those in need of legal assistance.
Law students involved in the project expressed their enthusiasm, recognizing the benefits for their overall career development.
A 3rd year Law student wishing not to be named, who is part of this project believes that this project will be a great help in his overall career. “It will obviously help me in my course and future career, not only as a law student or a lawyer but as a legal researcher also, since it will enhance my research skills and reasonable thinking and widen my scope in the legal field as Legal Aid works mostly at the grass loot level and it involves mostly helping the poor and marginalized societies, so it somehow touches the humanitarian cause also. It helps a law student to achieve his role as a legal advisor or a para-legal to help such people who have faith in the judiciary, through such a system,” said the student.
Another Law student at the University of Kashmir, Sartaj Hussain stated that these legal clinics are highly effective and it helps a law student in the overall development. “Legal aid clinics promote pro bono work and public service among law students, encouraging them to use their legal skills to help those in need. This helps to instil a sense of social responsibility and civic engagement in law students, preparing them to become ethical and compassionate lawyers in the future,” said Sartaj.
The initiative led by Dr Yasin is expected to have a positive impact on the community, providing much-needed legal support to those in need in Kashmir.
“This initiative would have a positive impact on the community, and it will provide much-needed legal support to those who need it in Kashmir,” he added.