Interview with Dr. Asif. E. Assistant Professor (Law) & Legal Aid Faculty Coordinator, NUALS, Kochi

Interview with Dr. Asif. E. Assistant Professor (Law) & Legal Aid Faculty Coordinator, NUALS, Kochi

Interview taken by

Divya S
3rd Year B.A.LL.B (Hons.) Student
The National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi


Dr. Asif.E (Legal Aid Faculty Coordinator, NUALS, Kochi)

1. Tell me about your organization in brief.
The National University of Advanced Legal Studies Legal Aid Clinic (NUALS Legal Aid Clinic) is an organization of the National Law University in Kochi, focussing on providing legal aid and awareness to the general public. Our activities to this end include providing legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. We also conduct community outreach programs and legal awareness camps. We sensitize students to the problems faced by the indigent and attempt to inculcate a sense of social responsibility in students. Furthermore, the clinic is meant to act as a platform for introducing students to the practicalities of the legal world.
We aspire to help build a society where no one may be deprived of justice due to the lack of legal assistance. We work to attain a more inclusive legal mechanism by which the purpose of social justice is served.

2. What is the importance of the study of socio-legal issues in the legal field?
The society inadvertently shapes the law. The response of society to change reflects in the law by which it is governed. This symbiotic relationship between the social and legal sphere of society is nurtured by tackling socio-legal issues, without which the law would move against the society ultimately resulting in one where benefits are distributed disproportionately. The importance of the study of socio-legal issues can thus be distilled to three reasons – to understand the evolving society through which law evolves, to identify the methods to tackle them, to address the issues to effect change.

3. Tell me about your initiatives in legal aid and awareness field as a law student and now as professor/advocate/chairman, president of NGO, etc.
The Legal Aid Clinic was set up to address socio-legal issues, spread awareness and encourage students to engage in the same. Workshops and seminars are conducted often on various matters, from classes on legislations for the residents of the community to sensitization programs for students. The clinic also facilitates the District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) in their functions by assisting them in providing legal aid services. 
The Legal Aid Team has also worked on projects for the empowerment of indigenous people (in Attappadi, Kerala), community outreach programs (titled ‘Samaneethi’) and post-disaster management. ‘Neethidhara’ was an initiative which followed the 2018 flood of Kerala, wherein the issues of the residents were identified and the authorities notified to recover their documents, compensation, etc.

4. Tell me your students’/team’s/associates’ etc. initiatives in legal aid, awareness and socio-legal issues
The projects undertaken by the clinic are spread over days and even weeks, with subsequent follow-up (if any) requiring months to complete. The team often spend days on door-to-door surveys to identify issues and spread awareness, contact authorities and keep a constant line of communication open. Thus, they are directly involved from the first stage and are able to understand the problems of the community. This consequently leads to the students conducting sessions themselves, approaching other members to collaborate on projects involving multiple fields, etc.

5. What is the role of higher judiciary in legal aid and awareness in India?
Supreme Court Judge, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J. asserted that the Maneka Gandhi dictum of "fair legal procedure" is violated in absence of a statutory provision for free legal services that prohibits an indigent from being represented by a lawyer in the court of law. He further opines that free legal services to the indigent is an aspect of natural justice, absence of which violates the principles of Article 21 going by the interpretation given by Maneka Gandhi. The higher judiciary is both feared and respected for its authority on its decisions. These are to be in the interests of the public and ensure that the same is protected. Thus, the role of the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India is by no means negligible.

6. What is the role of Government in legal aid and awareness in India?
Aiming at extension of legal aid to the marginalized, poor and vulnerable communities, the Law Ministry in 2017 launched three initiatives—pro bono legal services, a tele-law service and ‘Nyaya Mitra’ scheme. While all three services are still available, the majority of the general public is neither aware of the same nor are they willing to pursue their issues through such portals. Hence, it is evident that the Government can create a huge impact on the society through implementation of all the existing policies and social welfare legislations. Unfortunately, it is in the role of spreading awareness that they falter.  

7. What are your views on present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India?
Article 38, 22(1) and 14 of the Indian Constitution visualizes and attempts to provide for a society in which justice is equally and even- handedly provided. The Government has attempted to further this vision with the judiciary supporting such ventures and at times even introducing or advocate the introduction of measures for the same. However, reality paints a different picture of countless still struggling to even understand the system let alone demand their rights. The major paradox that plagues our nation is the coexistence of refreshingly progressive laws and a record of haphazard implementation. Awareness seems to be a generic word with its need being stressed in every platform to no avail. Though the present situation is not deplorable (to be attributed to judicial activism of the late 20th century in India) there is still is a long way to go to achieve the ideals as enshrined in our Constitution.

8. What are your views on effectiveness of Legal Service Authority Act, 1987?
Free legal aid for socially and economically vulnerable people was introduced across India in 1995, when the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 came into force. The law is aimed at constituting 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. An important provision of the Act is one which mandates the offering of free services of lawyers to those who cannot access such services due to the ensuing financial burden. 
Nearly thirty two years on, however, the Legal Services Authorities Act has become yet another example of a social justice law that is well-intentioned on paper but riddled with problems on the ground. From daunting procedures that deter lawyers from taking up free cases to corruption, lawyers and social workers point out, legal aid is far from being ideally implemented.

9. What are your views on the present situation of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India?
PIL allows for any individual who claims a violation of one of her or his fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Constitution, to bypass the local courts and appeal directly to one of the state’s High Courts or to the Supreme Court. The preferred remedy is often in the form of equitable relief, such as an injunction, to compel the government to take appropriate measures to redress violations of fundamental rights. The present situation of PIL is one which ushers in hope and sustains faith in the governance of our nation. In the light of the landmark judgments that recognized and upheld the interests of the society as in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India, Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India, etc. the present scenario is more promising than ever. However, the filing of such petitions are to be done scrupulously and must not be exploited.

10. What advice would you like to give to the future advocates/professors/scholars with regards to socio-legal issues, legal aid and awareness initiatives?
The leaders of the judiciary and the bar in India have long recognized the need for effective legal assistance to all in the society. Yet, a part of the nation, that certainly cannot be considered negligible, is disconnected and unaware of the many benefits that has arisen from such a realization. Hence, it is no longer to be considered an obligation but rather a responsibility to address the need for legal assistance to secure the ends of justice. Young or aspiring lawyers are to be assured that they can effect change and this can be attained only if the existing legal fraternity leads by example.

11. Message to ProBono India. 
ProBono India is identified as India’s first platform integrating legal aid and awareness initiatives. This laudable venture is indeed a step towards efficient co-operation between the various initiatives all fighting for the same noble cause – of providing legal aid/awareness. The furtherance of this cause is made easier by the single platform which I believe will sustain and promote such initiatives.