Justice UU Lalit’s Recommendations Must Be Accepted
Who does not know Hon’ble Justice Uday Umesh Lalit? He is a Judge par excellence who just needs no introduction or description from anyone. Still let me give a brief introduction of Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit for the benefit of those who generally don’t do much reading on legal issues and legal personalities.
To start with, he is a very eminent and senior Judge of the Supreme Court and is the 6th senior advocate to be directly elevated to the Supreme Court. He is also the Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority. It deserves mentioning that prior to his elevation, Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit practised in the Apex Court as a senior counsel.
Furthermore, it must be mentioned here that Hon’ble Justice Lalit enrolled as an advocate in June 1983. Prior to getting enrolled, he did his law from Government Law College in Mumbai. He practiced in the High Court of Mumbai from 1983 to 1985 with elegance and brilliance. He also had the unique privilege to work with former Attorney General of India late Soli J Sorabjee from 1986 to 1992.
As we see, it was in 2004 that Supreme Court designated him as a senior advocate. He specialized in criminal law. He is also known all over for conducting trials as CBI’s Special Public Prosecutor in all 2G matters most immaculately under the orders of the Apex Court. It must be noted that he also had served as a member of the Supreme Court’s Legal Services Committee for two terms.
What’s more, it must also be mentioned here that Hon’ble Justice Lalit was elevated as a Judge of the Apex Court directly from the Bar on August 13th, 2014. It also must be noted that it was in May 2021 that Hon’ble Justice Lalit was appointed as the Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) which is certainly doing a yeoman’s job. He has delivered many landmark judgments also like that of Shayara Bano v Union of India and others in Writ Petition (C) No. 118 of 2016 that was pronounced finally on 23.8.2017 by a five Judge Bench which negated the validity of triple talaq and Hon’ble Justice Lalit held so very rightly that triple talaq violated the fundamental right guaranteed in Article 14 of the Constitution.
Be it noted, Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit who is the second senior Judge of the Supreme Court at present while addressing the Judges, Lawyers and Legal Services Provider at the Maharashtra State Level Conference on the topic titled “Early Access To Justice At Pre-Arrest, Arrest and Remand Stage” on March 26, 2022 very rightly underscored the need to provide quality services while providing free legal aid. What all Hon’ble Justice Lalit pointed out has to be thought over by our law makers in depth. It must be mentioned here that the one-day programme was organised at Maharashtra Judicial Academy at Uttan under the aegis of NALSA, Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority and State Legal Services Authority, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.
Needless to say, it is good to learn that Hon’ble Justice Lalit did not mince any words to clearly specify while expressing serious concern at the extremely low percentage of cases which land up with the Legal Services Authority that, “Free legal aid does not mean poor legal aid, free legal aid must mean quality service.” While referring to statistics, Hon’ble Justice Lalit specified that the Legal Services Authority handle just 1% of the litigation. To augment the quality of services of legal aid in our country, Hon’ble Justice Lalit made no bones about what is inevitable is that it was important to induct talented and committed persons. It is a no-brainer that only talented and committed persons can ensure that free legal aid mean quality service and not inferior service that is just not up to the mark!
It is worth noting that Hon’ble Justice Lalit also very rightly pointed out that certain High Courts have a system that advocates conferred with senior designation should handle a specified number of pro bono cases. He also had a point when he said that a person must have the benefit of qualified legal assistance at pre-arrest, arrest and remand stage. In the own sagacious words of learned Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit who spoke his mind on this key issue of providing quality legal aid and said elegantly that, “At every possible stage the man must have the benefit of qualified legal assistance. We don’t provide the legal assistance, we at NALSA, SLSA, DLSA, TLSA, what do we do? We are just facilitators. We are not the ones who is going to appear for that man and present his case, we simply facilitate that mechanics, we have an apparatus and that’s why one has to see this NALSA as a beautiful machinery which has been produced by the Parliament. There is no other scheme which is given in the hands of Judiciary, which is supposed to be in the interest of the society. The Judges right from top that is NALSA upto State Legal Services Authority, District Legal Services Authority or even Taluk Legal Services Committee, the entire apparatus is managed by the Judges. But management is the only part which is in our hands, execution of that, i.e. giving legal counsel, is in the hands of lawyer or is in the hands of the team of the lawyers and this is precisely why my predecessors who addressed you were stressing upon the fact that quality legal assistance, pro-bono services, senior advocates, getting inducted in the programme that will provide you good quality assistance.”
Adding more to it, Hon’ble Justice Lalit then also confided about his invaluable treasured experiences which he gained after decades of experience in Bar that, “It is true that there are methods and methods in which we can induct, we can draft that talent. Like for instance, High Courts of Punjab and Haryana and Delhi before they designate a person as a senior counsel, they look into the profile and they say, how many matters have you done pro bono? Some of the High Courts go to the extent of getting an undertaking that after your designation you shall do at least 10 pro-bono matters every year. Now, these are modalities, and methodology that a particular High Court, may adopt, may not adopt, that is not the point, point is legal aid, free legal aid does not mean poor legal aid, free legal aid must mean quality service. If I go through this door and approach the legal aid, I must be assured that good quality assistance will be given to me, rather than if I go through the other door, where I may have to sell ornaments of my wife in order to support the litigation to be sponsored. Why do I say that? Since the basic topic is arrest, pre-arrest, remand which is pertaining to criminal law, of all the matters which are in court, only 1% of that land up with Legal Aid Services Clinics. Is that proportion correct? If we say that 70% of our people are below poverty line, then goping by the same logic, the same proportion perhaps 70% of the litigants must be those, who are below poverty line, rough and ready estimate then why is it only 1% of them land up in the legal aid services clinics.” Absolutely right! There can be just no denying it!
Introduce compulsory rural service for law students like medical students
Going ahead, Hon’ble Justice Lalit in his bid to improve the quality of legal aid services further put forth a novel suggestion that law students can be asked to render compulsory legal aid services at rural areas, like the compulsory rural service condition for the medical students. He also said that many youngsters have a “spark of talent” which is not matched by older professionals, and hence seniority need not be the sole criteria for induction into legal aid services.
While speaking quite elaborately in detail his mind on this particular key subject, Hon’ble Justice Lalit then suggested that, “I have been advocating, I have actually been in touch with the Bar Council of India and I have been telling them, make it part of your curriculum at LLB level and this I said just few days back – we have courses like medicine, where after a person graduates, he gives it back to the society by serving as an internship in rural areas. Why not with legal professional? Why is it that the service of rural areas is the prerogative and preserve only of medical professionals? So we should adopt that, as a principle, when it comes to legal education. This is what I have been advocating. I have been stressing on this, with Bar Council of India persons and they have agreed, from 3rd year onwards, they will be regularly sending students, every law college will be adopting may be 2 or 3 taluks and send the law students to those nearby taluks, so that as young students, as young professional, they have first hand experience. If that exposure, so far as students are concerned is achieved, as and when they pass out, they will be your first line, who will be inducted as qualified legal professionals, who can take charge of, or who can take care of, what is your legal aid service programmes. And thereby you will be ensuring, the third rung that is the legally qualified persons are of good quality. These are various facets, induct people on pro bono, increase remuneration, have good quality persons. I am not so touchy, about the fact that only senior persons must be given the charge. I have seen spark of talent even in youngsters and those youngsters do tremendous amount of work with so much of zeal, that perhaps I think that may not be matched by some of the older persons in the profession. So seniority, is not the only determining criteria.”
Lack of awareness about legal aid
Adding still more, Hon’ble Justice Lalit said that one of the reasons for the low percentage of cases handled by the legal services authorities could be the lack of awareness among the marginalized sections about the awareness of legal aid mechanisms. To remedy this situation, he suggested that every FIR should have details of the nearest legal aid services clinic. Also, every police station must have a board giving information about the availability of legal aid services. This is most commendable suggestion and needs to be implemented at the earliest.
In conclusion, what all Hon’ble Justice Lalit has suggested so very sagaciously must be implemented at the earliest. There is not even a single reason that I can search after scratching all the muscles in my brain to ever differ even on one point with what Hon’ble Justice Lalit has said so very commendably. I am most certain that what all Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit has suggested so very wisely would be promptly implemented at the earliest without wasting any more time. It definitely brooks no more delay!