Access to Justice means approach or admittance to justice. It means existence of an effective system where rights are provided and remedied in case of breach. The preamble of the Constitution of India begins with “We the People” signifying the source of power lies in the hands of common people. Access to justice to everyone is a vital responsibility mandated upon the State. Justice encompasses recognition of rule of law and resolution of conflicts.The Supreme Court has always tried to interpret the fundamental rights along with directive principles to make access to justice easier for the poor and underprivileged. However the real experiences show that access to justice has become cumbersome and discouraging. The cases pending before the courts, high costs, complicated procedure, paucity of awareness etc. have decelerated the legal system.
We can classify the reasons for the barriers in the following ways.
- Societal & cultural barriers –including literacy, education, Poverty & discrimination.
- Institutional barriers such as insufficient governmental resources to guarantee or facilitate access to justice, inadequate organizational structure of justice institutions, limited legal assistance & lack of enforcement of decisions.
- Intersectional barriers-. This includes lack of trust in lawyers & judges. Most importantly it leads to corruption.
The measures that can help people overcome these barriers can be classified as following:
- ADR is an alternative solution for geographically inaccessible formal court services. As with literacy, education, & awareness, barriers stand in the way of solutions.
- To be able to access justice, parties must be provided with the opportunity to present their case effectively, procedures ought to be fair & parties ought to know the case against them, submit relevant evidence & pursue judicial inquiries within judicial time limits to eliminate the gap of irregularities in access to justice.
- Under the Legal Service Authority Act of 1987, India has a non-adversarial “lok Adalat” or people’s court. In these cases, retired judges & government officials facilitate mediation & try to reach a compromise between the parties. The procedure is much faster than the formal process, parties present their cases themselves & no fees are charged.
- The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) offers legal aid programs as those for the rescue & rehabilitation of child laborers, seasonal workers outside of the organized sector.
- A gender desk at police stations will enable more sensitive & timely treatment of complaints by women.
India does not lack laws to ensure justice; it only lacks the dedication to enforce and implement laws. A country cannot be adjudged developed until it secures justice for everyone. There is a need to widen the ambit of Judiciary and focus on developing infrastructure of judicial institutions, filling vacancies, awareness and empowerment of legal aid, initiating reforms in the police and the prison systems. We must educate people and make them aware of their basic legal rights. We must encourage literacy camps and advertisements in villages, adopt legal aid as chapter in educational institutes, and engage paralegals to ensure the efficiency of affordable legal aid. Legislature must enact new laws to ensure timely disposal of case. Accountability must be ascertained of police and prison systems so that they do not infringe the rights of victims, undertrials and accused.