Interview with Abhishek Singh, Advocate, New Delhi on Pro Bono Lawyering

Interview with Abhishek Singh, Advocate, New Delhi on Pro Bono Lawyering

Q.1 Tell me about yourself
A. My name is Abhishek Singh. I am born and brought up in Delhi. I have completed my B.A. LL.B. in 2021 from Amity Law School Noida. Currently, I am working as an Associate in Dhir & Dhir Associates. My work responsibilities include drafting, representing in courts, handling and taking care of civil, criminal and corporate litigation matters. Previously, I have worked as an associate in L&L Partners and there I worked on many litigation matters and also appeared before High Court of Delhi in number of cases. I have also been associated with Mr. Vineet Dhanda (Central Government Standing Counsel) and assisted him in many matters involving Union of India before Hon’ble High Court of Delhi. Recently, I have also been empaneled as the panel counsel for MCD to represent matters before district courts.

Besides my professional credentials, I am a sports person too and I love to play basketball. During my college days, I was an active member of Legal Aid Cell and also worked in the capacity of PLV for DSLSA. I also used to participate in many MUN conferences, literary competitions etc.

Q.2 What role are you playing in showcasing the importance of legal aid in society?
A. I am in this field for quite some time now so I regularly and actively advocate for the provision of legal aid services to those who cannot afford legal representation. I do take pro bono cases and help the vulnerable people to have their say in the matters before the courts through a proper and effective representation of their cases. 

I also use my knowledge and experience to educate the public about the value of legal aid. This involves participating in public speaking engagements, social gatherings, writing posts, or engaging with the people on social media to raise awareness about the challenges faced by underserved populations and the impact that legal aid can have on their lives. By leveraging social media, I am also trying to reach a wider audience and engage with individuals who may not be aware of their rights or the availability of legal aid services. In addition to this, I also assist and support fellow attorneys in their pro bono cases by all possible means be it lobbying for funds, discussions with stakeholders or any other administrative tasks.

Q.3 According to you, what is the importance of studying the socio - legal issues for students?
A. According to me, teaching socio-legal issues to law students is essential for their intellectual and professional development. The study of socio-legal issues promotes critical thinking, thorough analysis of subject matter, and problem-solving skills among students. It exposes them to a wide range of perspectives, conflicting interests, and competing policy objectives. This exposure encourages students to critically examine and assess legal frameworks, identify shortcomings in current laws, and develop innovative solutions to address social and legal challenges. As a result, students develop creative thinking, analytical reasoning, and adeptness in navigating complex legal landscapes.

Socio-legal issues illustrate the practical implications of legal rules and judgments of courts. It showcases the effects of laws on diverse social groups, especially those who are marginalized and vulnerable. By studying these issues, students can gain a deeper understanding of the impact of legal decisions and law made by government on both individuals and society as a whole. This knowledge equips students to recognize and tackle legal and social issues more efficiently. Further, studying social-legal issues also gives the space to researchers to contribute and advance new ideas, concepts and theories so that the law making and social considerations go hand in hand.

Q.4 What are your views on the present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India?
A. The present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India is a mixed bag. While there have been efforts to improve access to justice and legal awareness, several challenges persist which includes significant gaps in terms of reach and effectiveness of legal aid and awareness on ground conducted by both NALSA, DSLSA and other state legal services authority. As a PLV, I have seen that the many lawyers who come on duty either they do not have the proper resources or team to effectively communicate the message or they are not diligent in carrying out their duty. This aspect needs to be significantly controlled by proper feedback mechanism and developing indicators to measure effectiveness of legal literacy and legal awareness programmes. 

I believe that technology and digital platforms has a bigger role to play in this domain because through this we can deliver the message directly to the homes of citizens in today’s fast paced world and accordingly personalized the legal aid programmes as per the requirements of the citizens. However, the digital divide and limited internet access in certain regions pose challenges to the effective utilization of these platforms. 

Q.5 What sort of fields should students work upon to help curb socio - legal issues?
A. Students can play a crucial role in curbing socio-legal issues by engaging in various fields and areas. They can contribute through legal aid and pro bono work, providing free legal services to marginalized communities and bridging the justice gap. By conducting thorough legal research and policy analysis, students can help develop evidence-based recommendations for policymakers and propose reforms to address socio-legal challenges.

Collaboration and networking are essential for students to leverage collective expertise and resources. By working together with fellow students, legal professionals, NGOs, and government bodies, students can create a collective impact in addressing socio-legal issues. Collaboration and networking are essential for students to leverage collective expertise and resources. By working together with fellow students, legal professionals, NGOs, and government agencies, students can create a collective impact in addressing socio-legal issues.

Q.6 What sort of public - policy reforms and shifts are required to advance the legal aid mechanism?
A. The first and foremost shift is to properly allocate the funds for the legal aid programmes and initiatives. Proper flow of funds in the department will ensure that these campaigns reaches directly to the masses of India because we see that many state legal services authority does not have enough resources and funds (like as we have in Delhi) to effectively carry out the legal aid initiatives among the masses of particular state. Hence, the role of public leaders and bureaucrats become important in such scenario that the access of justice should be made available to those also who do not have the means to come to the doors of the court. 

Again the importance of technology comes handy in these scenarios technology can enhance the efficiency and reach of legal aid mechanisms. Online platforms, helplines, and virtual legal assistance can improve accessibility, particularly for remote and underserved areas. Investment in technological infrastructure and training would be necessary to implement such initiatives effectively. Further, conducting research and evaluations of legal aid programs can help identify gaps, assess effectiveness, and drive evidence-based improvements. I believe the DISHA scheme (Designing Innovative Solutions and Holistic Access to Justice” for the period of 2021-2026) of the Department of Justice is a step in the right direction given if it is implemented properly with good intentions by all the stakeholders.

Q.7 What is the role of higher judiciary in legal aid and awareness in India?
A. I think that the role of higher judiciary becomes very important as far as the implementation of these legal aid programmes are concerned. We see that how many times the judiciary through its various judgments have highlighted the importance of legal aid and awareness and time and again given historic judgments to secure the rights of the individuals but still we see that the judgment delivered and directions given the higher judiciary is not followed in letter and spirits by the lower departments and sometimes courts too. Hence, I see that there is lacunae in that particular sense which can be corrected when the higher judiciary becomes itself aware about the lapses on their part. Besides this, higher judiciary through PILs takes up matters of public concern and addresses socio-legal issues. PILs have been instrumental in expanding the reach of legal aid and bringing attention to social injustices, thereby increasing legal awareness. 

Further, the live streaming of proceedings of Supreme Court and all the High Courts in India will bring the much awaited revolution in the field of legal awareness outreach. In addition, the language barriers of higher courts should be addressed accordingly so as to increase the penetration of legal aid and awareness programmes.

Q.8 What is the role of the government in advancing legal aid and awareness in India?
A. The government of India plays a crucial role in advancing legal aid and awareness in the country. It is responsible for formulating policies, allocating funds, and establishing legal aid institutions to ensure that legal aid services are accessible to all, especially marginalized and disadvantaged individuals. The government collaborates with stakeholders, including the judiciary, bar associations, law schools, and civil society organizations, to promote legal aid and awareness. Through policy formulation, the government creates the legal framework and regulatory mechanisms to facilitate the provision of legal aid services and raise awareness about legal rights and remedies.

Awareness campaigns organized by the government aim to educate the public about their legal rights and the availability of legal aid services. Workshops, seminars, and public outreach programs are conducted to raise awareness about legal issues and the importance of seeking legal assistance. Monitoring and evaluation of legal aid programs fall under the government\'s purview. It assesses the impact, identifies gaps, and takes necessary measures to improve the delivery of legal aid services and enhance awareness initiatives.

Q.9 What are your views upon the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987?
A.  Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 was enacted with an objective to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society. There is no doubt that it has been instrumental in enhancing access to justice for marginalized and vulnerable populations. It has played a significant role in providing legal aid, raising awareness about legal rights, and reducing the burden on the traditional court system through the establishment of Lok Adalats. However, 
one of the main challenges with the current implementation of Lok Adalats, as outlined in Chapter VI of the Legal Services Authority Act, is its reliance on the agreement or settlement between the parties involved. The effectiveness of Lok Adalats, therefore, hinges on the willingness of the parties to reach a compromise. If any party demonstrates an unwillingness to compromise, it renders the entire process futile. 

Further, the people in legal services authority be it national, state or district bodies are overburdened with the assigned duties of the principal job, hence involving and recruiting young individuals or effectively dividing the duties among the body members would bring more effectiveness in functioning of the organization. The appointment of a sitting judge from the Supreme Court as the Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee adds to their existing workload of handling daily litigations, creating an additional burden. Hence, an amendment in this regard is also needed to improve the functioning of the legal services committee. Furthermore, alongside the establishment of the 4-tier Legal Services Authorities, it is imperative for the government to create an autonomous entity responsible for monitoring their functioning and facilitating coordination among the Taluka, District, State, and National Legal Services Authorities. When constituting this monitoring body, the government should prioritize the recruitment of young legal professionals who do not hold any other judicial positions. This ensures that these professionals can dedicate themselves solely to the tasks and objectives of the independent monitoring body, working in the best interests of the organization.

Q.10 What are your future plans and endeavours?
A. Given my time constraints, for now my focus is to engage with the masses through online mediums and platforms so that I can reach out and make them aware about the legal rights and the services offered to them in case they have not the means to pursue their cases. From starting of my legal career I have been tilted to do more litigation which advances the social causes and help the individuals secure their rights. Hence, from that perspective I am planning to collate the team of young lawyers and law students who can directly address the concern of the people and assist people throughout the lifecycle of their cases so that the experience of the people in pursuing court cases can be improved and they should not hesitate to approach the court in future to secure their rights. 

Message for ProBono India 
ProBono has been doing a great job in advancing legal aid and awareness programmes. ProBono website has been instrumental in creating an information hub, providing resources such as articles, guides, research papers, and legal news to educate users on various legal topics.