Staff Reporter

KOCHI: President Pratibha Patil, on Monday, expressed concern about alcoholism in the State.

Delivering the inaugural address at the two-day national conference of the All-India Federation of Women Lawyers (AIFWL) here on Monday, she said that despite Kerala’s achievement in women’s empowerment, especially as many women from the State had made remarkable achievements in the legal field, social ills such as alcoholism and dowry were rampant in the State.

“It is a State where the female population is over 51 per cent and the literacy rate of females is 88 per cent, the highest in India. However, I am surprised to learn that in spite of this, alcoholism is rampant and women are the worst sufferers. Similarly, I am told that the dowry system persists and continues to be a major problem here,” Ms. Patil said.

“I particularly call upon women and the youth of the country to take up the challenge to eliminate these social evils and work towards changing social attitudes and social mindsets. I believe that women have great potential to bring about change in society and that is why I am asking them to take the lead. This will bring peace, prosperity and a sense of well-being in society.”

On the legal front, Ms. Patil called for affordable legal services to ensure that the right of judicial opportunity was not compromised by high costs. The court fees and the lawyers’ fees which were high were impinging on people’s decision to opt for legal remedy. “Access to justice, in fact, can be described as the cornerstone of a responsive judicial system,” she said.

Ms. Patil noted that Article 39A of the Constitution called for free legal aid to those who could not access justice owing to economic or other disabilities. “Access to quick, inclusive and quality justice is the key to achieve this objective,” Ms. Patil said. She said the government had taken several steps to make free legal service available to the poor.

The President called for innovative mechanisms to reduce delays in legal proceedings. “This could include revising many of our legal codes and laws which are old and outdated as well as straightening the institutional aspects of the judiciary,” Ms. Patil said.

She called for training of judicial officers and law-enforcement authorities to sensitise them to the need for speedy justice while dealing with cases of violence, harassment or discrimination against women. The message should register in society that those violating the dignity and the rights of women would be dealt with immediately.

Calling for raising the level of legal literacy in the country, the President said that enacting legislation was not enough. “Information needs to be disseminated about laws, their applicability and the forums to be approached for the redressal of the infringement of rights,” Ms. Patil said.

She said the legal systems had to cope with the impact of 21st century changes, particularly information technology, which could be used for delivering justice in a quick and transparent manner.

The President urged the lawyers to be discreet about the use of litigation to resolve disputes and to resort to mediation when warranted. “This will enhance the name and reputation of the lawyer as a peacemaker,” Mr. Patil said.

Governor R.S. Gavai released a souvenir. K.G. Balakrishnan, Chief Justice of India, and S.R. Bannurmath, Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, offered felicitations. Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy was present.