Enthusiasm Among Lawyers To Provide Legal Aid Services To The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC)

Rakhi Ray

2 May 2024 2:50 PM GMT

  • Enthusiasm Among Lawyers To Provide Legal Aid Services To The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC)
    Listen to this Article

    The legal profession was never intended to be a commercial pursuit or a business endeavor. It was always a service to society. In fact, in the earliest recorded professional work of 'lawyers' in ancient Greece, they were forbidden from accepting any 'fees' for their services. However, over a period of time a regulated profession developed and consumers of legal services felt obliged on their own to render some 'fees' in the nature of acknowledgement for services rendered. That is also the reason for the 'pouch' behind the gown worn by advocates, where the client felt obliged to place some currency or a coin commensurate to their affordability and the lawyer never on his own accord asked for any fee.

    It is well recognized even till today that the legal profession is one of rendering service and every lawyer renders the service to her/ his entire spectrum of clients that may come from well-heeled business houses to the poorest of the poor and the marginalized because every person at some point in their life requires legal services in asserting a right, redressing a grievance or correcting a wrong in a society governed by rule of law.

    It is common place to find that when one is introduced as a lawyer in any gathering, there will be surrounded by a surfeit of questions from various people, which clearly indicates that there is a deep need and requirement for legal awareness/ availing legal services, which often people avoid for various reasons such as the prohibitive cost in pursuing legal remedies and/or the enormous time and energy required in pursuing the same. Nevertheless, the need for legal advice/ services is undeniable.

    Rendering Legal Services pro bono is something all us advocates do sometime or the other. Whether it is for relatives, friends, friends of friends, neighbors, staff and their families. There is always someone requesting for some advice or help or actual handing of their cases. No advocate is immune from the same. In my 3 decades of practice, I have not come across a single professional who has turned away a person in need of legal services. That in fact, lawyers themselves feel a sense of duty and a need from within to return to society by rendering legal services to persons in need.

    The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC) in this regard in its quest for access of justice to all, provides an institutional platform for lawyers of all standing, whether they are well briefed counsels, Advocates on Record, Junior Advocates to render expert legal services free of cost (pro bono). That although it is mentioned and categorized as pro bono, nevertheless, an honorarium is always paid by SCLSC to all the lawyers who are empaneled and who render such services in appreciation of their efforts and are also paid the expenses involved in filing of the cases.

    The SCLSC has a panel of advocates (Senior Advocates, Advocates on Record and Advocates) who are chosen after consideration of competency, integrity, suitability and experience and cases are assigned mostly on a roster basis so that all advocates receive cases but also taking into consideration the special circumstances regarding the matter (such as a matter involving death sentence would be assigned to an Advocate with more than 25 years of experience), nature of the matter i.e., Civil or Criminal, type of cases the Advocate may prefer to be entrusted with, the familiarity of the lawyer with the vernacular language, the previous pendency of cases with the panel advocate. The purpose being that the case is assigned to the lawyer suitably competent to handle that kind of matter.

    Recently there appears to be a sudden excitement among Advocates for providing legal aid services to the SCLSC. The Committee has been beseeched by Advocates eager to be empaneled to provide legal aid.

    The reason appears to be two-fold. One is the recent judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India through Secretary General; (2023) 8 SCC 1; wherein one of the criterion for designation as a Senior Advocate is the Legal Aid and pro bono work an Advocate has rendered in their career for which 5 marks are allotted and the second reason which is making the difference is the wonderful new digital interface for advocates empaneled with the SCLSC and recent initiatives taken by the dynamic SCLSC committee led by visionary Judges that has made the onerous task of collecting the papers, translations, collating documents, filing, billing and other such tasks extremely easy and at the click of the mouse.

    The digital interface provides each empaneled advocate with a personal dashboard and login ID. At the time the case is assigned to an advocate, a sms alert is also sent on the registered mobile of the advocate. Upon opening the dash board the Advocate can view all the documents such as the Impugned order, the High Court and Trial Court records in PDF and all documents necessary for filing of SLP along with the contact details of the client in case any other papers or information is required from them. With such a facility, the Advocate can log in into their account from anywhere and start reading and preparation of the SLP. The interface even provides a VC facility for interaction with the clients in any jail in the country.

    The SCLSC has held workshops to familiarize the empaneled Advocate on Records with the digital interface so that they can take advantage of the revolutionary interface and advancement in technology. In fact in the recent workshop held on 19th March 2024, the new Chairperson of the SCLSC Mr. Justice B.R. Gavai endearingly motivated the attending advocates by telling them to abandon their inhibitions about technology by giving his own example and telling them how he has successfully embraced new technology and has become paper free.

    But for whatever reason, it is rather heartening and welcome that the younger lawyers as well as the veterans in the profession are coming forward to render their services to the SCLSC.

    Lawyers as a community are learned, have always been at the forefront in leading society, keeping them well informed, and protecting the cherished values of human existence. The SCLSC is a small endeavor towards accessibility to justice by making available quality legal services to even the poorest of the poor, before the highest court of the land, which is also a cherished Constitutional principle under Article 39A of the Constitution of India under Part IV relating to Directive Principles of State Policy, with respect to rendering equal justice and free legal aid.

    The Author is an Advocate On Record and member of the Mentoring and Monitoring Committee of SCLSC. Views are personal.

    Next Story