This piece is in continuation of the former piece titled ‘Clinical Legal Education In India As A Means To Advance Access To Justice’. As Part II, this piece will look into the functioning of three different law school legal aid clinics in India to understand how these clinics work and the general approach towards clinical legal education in India. It does so by doing a brief case study of three law school clinics in India.
1) ILS Legal Aid Programme (LAP)/College Legal Aid Centre (LAC), Indian Law Society (ILS)
The first law school clinic whose model requires close scrutiny is that of Indian Law Society (ILS) law school situated in Pune, Maharashtra. It is called ILS Legal Aid Programme (LAP) and or College Legal Aid Centre (LAC). LAP was started in 1976 by a prominent professor – Prof. P Sathe as a voluntary programme run by ILS students. LAC came into being in early 2000s, whereby students were required to engage in compulsory clinical work. However later this requirement was changed into a voluntary one for students. LAC now provides ILS students an opportunity to assist local lawyers in public interest matters, and/or provide free legal aid to people from weaker sections of the society. LAC gets most of the work through the State Legal Service Authority and office of the Public Prosecutor. The Aid Centre also carries out research work for foundations including the Ford Foundation, from which it receives part of its funding. It also receives part of its funding from the government. The students also carry out legal awareness programs in nearby villages, by providing information to the villagers on various relevant laws such as on dowry prohibition, marriage, domestic violence etc. in vernacular languages. One of the initiative included distribution of pamphlets which explains some of these laws in simple language. In carrying out its programs and activities, LAC co-ordinates with several NGOs, schools, local government amongst other stakeholders.
LAC is primarily run by a faculty member who acts as an overall supervisor. Students can opt to volunteer with LAC but are not provided with any academic credit for the same. Initially there were different centers in different parts of the Pune city as part of LAC but now they have a main center located on ILS campus.
2) Legal Services Clinic (LSC), National Law School of India University
The vision of the Legal Services Clinic (LSC) at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) is as follows :
“It not only provides a centre for practical professional training for students of law, but more importantly, provides free legal services to the socially and the economically backward sections of the society who have difficulty accessing the judicial system.”
Therefore the LSC is set up with the twin objectives in mind i.e. both to impart professional training to students and to use their contribution as a way to reduce the gap of access to legal services for the weaker sections of the society. The LSC works in tandem with the Legal Service Centre and both these are located on campus of NLSIU. Similar to the LAC of ILS, the LSC is overseen by a faculty member and works in tandem with the Karnataka Legal Services Authority (which is the State’s Legal Service Authority), office of the public prosecutor and local NGOs. Also similar to the LAC, the LSC makes it voluntary for students to assist with legal research, legal awareness programmes etc. However some of the initiatives of the LSC have been unique. For instance, it runs a 24 hours online service for people who do not have physical proximity to the clinic. Also in addition to free legal services and legal counselling, it also provides assistance with mediation to resolve disputes amicably between the parties. The students help the clients to get free legal aid under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and provide legal research for a variety of matters including family, property, criminal matters etc.
The LSC also co-ordinates with several local stakeholders including the State Legal Service Authority, office of the Public Prosecutor, local NGOs, and the local firm Poovayya and Co. with which it runs a public interest group. This enables law students interested in public interest matters to assist the lawyers at Poovayya and Co. who take up such matters and thereby learn under their supervision.
3) The Good Rural Governance and Citizen Participation Clinic (“Citizen Participation Clinic”) at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat
The Citizen Participation Clinic is a endeavor to engage law school students in a dialogue with community members to enhance the participation of the latter in the political processes. It was started through the efforts of a particular professor – Prof. Ajay Pandey who worked at IRRDAD (Institute for Rural Research and Development) and later joined Jindal Global Law School and later headed the Citizen Participation Clinic.
There are different components of the clinic. The classroom teaching component provides basic lawyering skills, introduction to the social and economic issues in India and encourages creative legal solutions to these problems. The practical component has several features. One of it includes partnering with local non-profit organizations to conduct weekly sabhas (meetings) with nearby village members, so that the village members can articulate their concerns and ask questions about their legal rights or government schemes that they can benefit from As Prof. Pandey puts it, rather than setting an agenda for these weekly meetings, he lets the villagers talk about their concerns, which are mostly personal and then law students try to think about ways in which law can assist them with their problems in any way. It’s a bottoms-up approach to help community members in thinking creatively of their problems, whether individual and collective and craft ways in which law can play any role. But Prof. Pandey and his team of law students do not restrict the solutions to law and also offer non-legal advice where need, to find a solution to the problem of the community members.
The most important element of this project is that the team of Prof. Pandey and his students encourage community members to take action by themselves, such as by filing applications under the Right to Information Act, filing PILs by writing to the Chief Justice of the State High Court etc. There are around 15 students for each semester at the Clinic.
What Are The Challenges Of This Approach?
There are several challenges that the clinical legal education in India faces. They cannot be isolated from the challenges that the legal education system in India faces broadly. Some of these shortcomings of the legal education in India have been pointed out by the 184th Report of the Law Commission of India, titled ‘The Legal Education & Professional Training and Proposals for Amendments to the Advocates Act, 1961 and the University Grants Commission Act, 1956’.
The main challenges of the clinical legal education in India are pointed out and summarized succinctly by the UNDP study, conducted in 2011 :
(1) No credit is given to students who undertake these activities, which is a disincentive to students to conduct them and discourages them to follow through on their commitments;
(2) There is no workload reduction given to faculty who are designated to supervise legal aid cells;
(3) Communities are not aware that the law schools provide free legal services; and
(4) Under the Advocates Act, full-time law teachers and students are not allowed to represent clients before courts.
Further there is lack of resources, lack of trained faculty members, lack of infrastructure, lack of involvement of Bar Council members. All these factors lead to an ineffective and weak clinical legal education in India. Therefore it is pertinent to compare the working of the existing law school clinics in India with another robust law school legal aid clinic model. The next piece will look into the functioning of the Harvard Law School clinical legal education model and then compare it with its Indian counterpart.
Read the First Part Here