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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Justice Surya Kant rightly pointed that the quality of legal education in a country represents its commitment to democratic values.
  • Lawyers can ensure that justice is served to even the weakest and most vulnerable sections of the society and can help in the development of an egalitarian society. The history of India demonstrates how lawyers have played a central role in social transformation.
  • The concept of free legal aid is aimed at discharging this social obligation that the lawyers owe to the society. Through the legal aid services, lawyers provide free legal advice to the poor and marginalized sections of the society.
  • A PIL can be filed by anyone, irrespective of the fact whether the matter concerns the right of the petitioner or not, provided that the matter concerned must be of social importance.

INTRODUCTION

Law is certainly one of the noblest professions as it helps in upliftment of the society and protection of the underprivileged. Law is a tool for service to society. A lawyer is expected to protect the interests of his clients and ensure that justice is delivered. The primary purpose of law is to secure justice and to ensure the welfare of the society at large. Roscoe Pound has said, “Law is social engineering which means a balance between the competing interests in society”. Just like an engineer delivers a product, after conducting several experiments, for the enhancement of societal development, similarly a lawyer takes into consideration the welfare of the maximum members of the society and aims at delivering the satisfaction through minimum resources. A legal framework is designed keeping in mind the needs and aspiration of the society and the trends and customs prevalent in the society. Thus, creation of a legal framework also requires a scientific bent of mind.

While creating a legal framework, the needs of the society, the rights which will be guaranteed by the framework and the limits, if any, which needs to be imposed on these rights, etc., has to be given due consideration.

JUSTICE SURYA KANT SPEECH

In a recent event, Supreme Court judge, Justice Surya Kant said, "Lawyers are not only professionals whose sole purpose is to represent their client. Instead, their role is that of social engineers.". The judge rightly pointed that the quality of legal education in a country represents its commitment to democratic values. Independent judiciary and effective legal education are essential for promoting an effective democracy and ensuring the smooth functioning of the democracy.

The Hon’ble Judge also highlighted the significance of library in the lives of law students. Even though in today’s time, information is just a click away; this does not reduce the importance of books in a student’s life. Books help a student in developing critical thinking and an analytical outlook. The importance of library cannot be overstated.

LAWYERS AS SOCIAL ENGINEERS

Lawyers play a significant role in the development of the society. They can ensure that justice is served to even the weakest and most vulnerable sections of the society and can help in the development of an egalitarian society. Lawyers have the social responsibility of serving the society.

The history of India demonstrates how lawyers have played a central role in social transformation. The framer of the Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, were all practitioners of law. It may be said that it is due to the presence of large number of legal minds in the Constituent Assembly, that India got such a comprehensive and dynamic Constitution.

Even after independence, the laws have been constantly evolving keeping in mind the interests of the society and the changing social trends. Several judicial doctrines such as the doctrine of basic structure, separation of powers, harmonious construction, etc have been evolved in the passage of time. These doctrines, which are a result of the constant and tireless efforts of the legal professionals, have played a significant role in safeguarding the rights of the people. Recognition of education, privacy, etc as fundamental rights has also contributed significantly towards the development of the society.

Laws are constantly changing with the evolving society. Old laws are constantly being amended or repealed and new laws are being framed in order to ensure that the legal structure remains relevant to the contemporary times. Laws such as the Consumer Protection Laws, Information Technology Act, etc, safeguard the rights of the people and prevents exploitation of privacy rights at the hands of large corporations. The general image of lawyers is a person who appears and argues before a court on behalf of his client. However, this is a very narrow definition of a lawyer. Lawyers influence each and every aspect of the society and contribute towards its development. For example, corporate lawyers facilitate the formation of uniform policies for the regulation of firms and provide a sense of stability to the economy, trade mark lawyers safeguard the intellectual property rights and thus encourage the people to undertake innovations, criminal lawyers ensure justice to the victims of offences and so on.

The rules laid down by the Bar Council of India also prescribe that a lawyer must act in such a manner so as to uphold the dignity of this noble profession. Where lawyers are found acting in conflict to the stated rules or where they are found acting against the interests of the society, disciplinary action can be taken by the Bar. A lawyer is expected to secure the interests of his client and not take undue advantage or exploit the information confided on him by his client.

The purpose of law is to promote social harmony and drive social change to eliminate any inequalities or evils existing in the society. The Minimum Wages Act, labour laws, rent control laws, juvenile laws, etc., are aimed at securing the interests of different sections of the society. Law is also the means of resolving any societal dispute. Equitable social justice is the primary aims of all the legislations.

Facilitating amicable resolution of disputes is one duty that lawyers, as social engineers, must strive to discharge. The Delhi High Court in the case ofChander Bhan & Anr v. State2008 SCC OnLine Del 883, pointed that “Lawyers are also to endeavour to bring about amicable settlement between the parties as they are expected to discharge sacred duty as social engineers”.

The role of the Bar is also very important in promoting social change and social justice. An active Bar can bring issues of social importance before the Courts and can seek the requisite remedy. The Bombay High Court, in the case ofManuel Theodore v. Unknown1999 SCC OnLine Bom 690, stated that “Only an activist bar can broaden and innovate social action litigation to motivate courts to promote public interest “lis”, since Judges are obliged to do justice.” Thus, we see that the Courts have also, from time to time, highlighted the role of the Bar in promoting public interest.

CONCEPT OF FREE LEGAL AID

The concept of free legal aid is aimed at discharging this social obligation that the lawyers owe to the society. Through the legal aid services, lawyers provide free legal advice to the poor and marginalized sections of the society. This is in line with the principle of justice for all.

Article 39A of the Indian Constitution states, “The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a 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 disabilities.” Thus, the concept of free legal aid is in accordance with Article 39A of the Indian Constitution. By ensuring that no person is denied legal aid due to monetary or other reasons, lawyers play a pertinent in safeguarding the rights of the people. Furthermore, Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution provides that all must be treated equally before the law. This Constitutional obligation cannot be fulfilled in the absence of free legal aid.

The Supreme Court in the case ofCenter for Legal Research. v. State of Kerala, stated that Article 39A “embodies a directive principle of State policy to set up a comprehensive and effective legal aid programme in order 1 to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equality.”

The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provided statutory recognition to the free legal aid. This Act was drafted “to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.” Under this Act, the National Legal Services Authority was constituted and Lok Adalats were established. The primary purpose of the Lok Adalats is to provide speedy justice and ensure that the disputed are amicably resolved in a cost-effective manner. These Lok Adalats have significantly broadened the reach of justice. Furthermore, the State and District Legal Services Authorities have also been established to ensure that free legal aid reaches every hook and corner of the country.

The free legal aid covers the expenses of court fees, legal advice, expenses involved in filing and printing any legal documents and any other expenses involved in the legal proceedings. These services can be availed by women and children, industrial workmen, persons belonging to the SC/ST communities, human trafficking victims, victims of natural disaster, mentally ill or disable people as well as poor people. Thus, we see that through this concept of free legal aid, lawyers contribute immensely towards the welfare of the society and towards building an equitable society. In view of the socio-economic inequality prevalent in our country, legal justice is the only tool for safeguarding the interests of the weaker sections. Additionally, several eminent lawyers also take pro bono cases.

PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is another tool which is often by the legal professionals for bringing about social change. Eminent legal professionals often approach the Courts through a PIL. A PIL can be filed by anyone, irrespective of the fact whether the matter concerns the right of the petitioner or not, provided that the matter concerned must be of social importance. Furthermore, the Courts can also take Suo moto cognizance of a PIL. However, PIL has not been defined in any statute. The Courts have evolved and accepted the concept of PIL for serving the interests of the society at large. Any party acting bona fide and having sufficient interests in the legal proceedings of the concerned matter is given the locus standi to file a PIL seeking remedy for the infringed rights. PILs thus facilitate the expansion of boundaries of social justice.

The concept of PIL was comprehensively explained in the case of SP Gupta v. Union of India. The Supreme Court in this landmark judgment had held that “litigation undertaken for the purpose of redressing public injury, enforcing public duty, protecting social, collective, 'diffused' rights and interests or vindicating public interest, any citizen who is acting bona fide and who has sufficient interest has to be accorded standing”. The Court in this case had rightly observed that in view of the socio-economic constraints relevant in our society, it is essential to promote and encourage public interest litigation and to remove the existing technical barriers against access to justice. Only when justice is ensured to all, the socio-economic rights guaranteed to the weaker section of the society will become meaningful instead of being mere hopes.

However, several frivolous PILs are also filed which leads to excessive case log before the judiciary. This causes severe harm to the image of the judiciary. The Courts have at various instances imposed fine on petitioners for filing frivolous PILs in order to discourage such unscrupulous practices. In some cases, PILs have been filed for personal interests rather than the interests of the society. In such cases, the very purpose of a PIL is defeated.

The Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Ashok Kumar Pandey v. The State of West Bengal, held that the Courts “must be careful to see that a body of persons or member of public, who approaches the court is acting bona fide and not for personal gain or private motive or political motivation or other oblique consideration”. Where the person or body of persons are found to be acting in a male file manner or for personal gains the petitions of such persons “deserve to be thrown out by rejection at the threshold, and in appropriate cases with exemplary costs”. Similarly, in the case of Kalyaneshwari vs U.O.I. & Ors, the Supreme Court while dealing with the issue of frivolous petitions being filed for publicity of personal gains, observed that, a “petition which lacks bona fide and is intended to settle business rivalry or is aimed at taking over of a company or augmenting the business of another interested company at the cost of closing business of other units in the garb of PIL would be nothing but abuse of the process of law.”

However, law is a dynamic field and taking cognizance of the issue of unnecessary PILs wasting the time of the Courts, the Apex Court has issued comprehensive guidelines specifying the petitions which shall not be admissible as PILs. Matters relating to tenancy or rent agreements, admissions to educational institution, pensions and gratuity, etc., are not admissible as PILs while matters relating to violation of labour laws, atrocities on women, bonded labour, harassment and torture by police, protection of climate and other environment related issue, etc., are admissible as PILs.

CONCLUSION

Law is indeed a noble profession and lawyers have played a significant role in the development of the society. Lawyers play a key role in facilitating societal changes. Socio-economic justice is the right of every individual and this right can be secured inly through judicial activism. Through activism, the legal professionals can contribute towards the eradication and elimination of social injustice.

However, some lawyers engage in scrupulous activities, thereby tarnishing the image of the profession. Filing of frivolous petitions is one such example. In certain instances, baseless PILs have been filed before the Courts for publicity. The Courts, from time to time, have discouraged such activities and have reminded the legal professionals of their duty towards the society. The responsibilities on lawyers are immense and the lawyers must always prioritize the society’s interests over their personal interests.

Considering the pendency of cases in the judiciary, the time has come for the entire legal profession to come together and promote arbitration and mediation as it can help in reducing the caseload. Discouraging traditional litigation methods is another social change that the lawyers must strive for. This would help the society as arbitration and mediation are cost-effective and faster means of securing justice.


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