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Interview with Ann Mary Biju, Convener, Legal Aid Society, University of Delhi

Q.1 Tell me about yourself
I am Ann Mary Biju, a second-year Law student at Law centre-II, Faculty of Law, Delhi University. I pursued a B. A (Hons) in English from Delhi University. I have a keen interest in law subjects like Constitution, Intellectual Property Rights, and Human Rights. I am a Convener of Legal Aid Society, Law Centre - II.

Q.2 What role are you playing in showcasing the importance of legal aid in society?
Being one of the 11 core-committee members of the Legal Aid Society of Law Centre-II, I have been part of many social outreach initiatives to inform and spread awareness to the common people about the availability and benefits of Legal Aid. A week-long door-to-door campaign in Kabir Basti was one such initiative. Such initiatives are what enable us to spread the word about the importance of legal aid to the general masses and the people who are in need of these services.

Q.3 What initiative has been taken by your college?
Legal Aid Society, Law Centre-II in collaboration with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority and Central State Legal Services authority introduces various initiatives every year. One of them is the pan India legal awareness program, which identifies an area within Delhi and then sends paralegals-volunteers to spread awareness relating to legal aid, relevant laws, and Legal Aid Clinic. Another initiative of our college is the school outreach program, where a group of 10-12 volunteers is sent to different govt schools to conduct a session with the students. Further many workshops and seminars on different subjects are also conducted by the college.

Q.4 According to you, what is the importance of studying the socio-legal issues for students?
Being aware of and understanding socio-legal issues is a must for everyone living in our society and it becomes much more important for students, it is only if they are aware of the shortcomings that they would take steps to change them for the better. Society is also everchanging and different socio-legal issues crop up from time to time, it is essential that students, adults, and everyone be informed and aware of the changing scenarios.
Q.5 What are your views on the present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India?
We have seen a concentrated effort from the part of the policymakers to spread awareness to the general public about the availability of free legal aid services, but unfortunately, a considerable section of society is still not aware of the mechanism in place. And some who know are unaware of how to avail of it. Similarly, the Legal Aid initiatives have various compensation schemes in place for victims of different socio-economic crimes like acid attack victims, and POCSO victims which need wider publicity and ease of access. But all in all our legal aid initiatives are moving in the right direction to achieve the motto of “access to justice for all” 

Q.6 What sort of fields should students work in to help curb socio-legal issues?
I believe every field of work in one way or another other contributes to the betterment of Socio-legal issues. But specifically, students engaging in fields like policy making, legal research, Working with Non-Governmental Organisations, and other fieldwork projects would be a great step in the beginning towards curbing socio-legal issues prevalent in our society. 

Q.7 What sort of public - policy reforms and shifts are required to advance the legal aid mechanism?
It is imperative that focus be put on allotting more manpower to Legal Services bodies. There is also the common perception that free services are synonymous with poor services, this also needs to be changed. Similarly more legal service clinics could be opened in collaboration with law students. Many marginalized communities are still unaware of the free legal aid services and in order for these services to reach them more legal awareness camps and outreach programs should be conducted consistently and continuously. 

Q.8 What is the role of the higher judiciary in legal aid and awareness in India?
The higher judiciary has played a significant role in the promotion of legal aid services in our country. National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) which is in charge of giving legal assistance to the underprivileged and marginalized groups of society, such as women, children, and the impoverished was founded by the Supreme Court. They have also implemented a number of steps to raise public knowledge of the law. To inform the public about their rights and the legal system, the courts have set up workshops, seminars, and legal literacy camps. The judiciary has also emphasized the value of legal education in schools and colleges in order to educate the next generation about the law.

Q.9 What is the role of the government in advancing legal aid and awareness in India?
The government additionally promotes legal awareness by holding workshops, conferences, and camps on legal literacy. These initiatives seek to increase awareness of the law among the general public and to inform individuals about their rights and the legal system. In general, the government must play a significant part in promoting legal aid and awareness in India. The government strives to build a more just and equitable society where everyone can access justice through its many programs and initiatives.

Q.10 What are your views on the Legal Services Authority Act, of 1987?
It is true that the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 has several positive features, including the establishment of Legal Services Authorities, eligibility criteria for legal aid, provision of free legal aid, the establishment of Lok Adalats and legal aid clinics, funding for legal aid services, and penalties for non-compliance, etc. These features aim to provide legal aid services to the marginalized sections of society and ensure that justice is accessible to all, but it has several shortcomings. These include inadequate funding, limited scope, lack of awareness, delayed justice, inadequate representation, and lack of coordination. These issues have prevented the effective implementation of the Act and access to legal aid services for those who need it.

Q.11 What are your future plans?
I would like to pursue an LLM in the future and begin a career in academia.

Q.12 Message for ProBono India
I think highly of the initiative of Pro Bono India, which aims to integrate legal aid and awareness initiatives. The legal information, internship opportunities, as well as organization, are of great value to me as a law student. Thanks to the organization for the same.
Interview conducted by Kartikeya Yadav, Law Centre II, University of Delhi