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Legal system too expensive for most: Study

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The survey reveals that 90 per cent of the litigants earn less than Rs. 3 lakh per annum and the median expected cost of litigation for this group is around Rs. 16,000.

Most of the litigants in the country earn less than Rs. 3 lakh a year, says a new survey by the Bengaluru-based civil society organisation DAKSH.

The nationwide “Access to Justice” survey was conducted across 305 locations in 24 States between November 2015 and February 2016 to hear the voice and explore the profile of people making use of judicial system in India.

The results of the survey, which were released on Saturday, reveal that 90 per cent of the litigants earn less than Rs. 3 lakh per annum and the median expected cost of litigation for this group is around Rs. 16,000.

While the survey talks about ‘access’ in terms of people who do go to court, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, said, “80 per cent of our country is shut out of the judicial system because they cannot access lawyers in the first place and the quality of legal aid is poor.”

Though legal aid aims to provide free legal services to the weaker sections who otherwise can’t afford it, the survey found that that just one per cent of the respondents were making use of this service.

A majority of the respondents found their lawyers by way of reference from colleagues, acquaintances or family members.

Accountability

Experts point out that accountability of legal aid lawyers towards their clients and lack of communication between the two are serious concerns plaguing the system.

The financial barrier is not just limited to accessing courts.

The main reason individuals could not meet the conditions of bail was found to be lack of funds.

A third of the respondents, who couldn’t get a bail when it was due, cited this as a reason. Also, around half the litigants cited expense as a major deterrent for filing appeals in the High Court if their cases were not resolved in their favour.

The survey shows that two-thirds of all civil disputes were regarding land and property, followed by litigation on family matters.

“This finding points us to the whole requirement for reform of land laws, not just limited to ‘Transfer of Property Act’ but also the ones relating to inheritance and Hindu Undivided Families (HUF), that trigger land disputes,” Harish Narasappa, co-founder of DAKSH, said.

He added that this called for further research to find if people were filing criminal cases for disputes around land.

Still ‘hopeful’

Interestingly, the surveyors found litigants to be ‘hopeful’. Majority of people said they expect their cases to be resolved within one year when the case had started. In fact, the lowest income group (earning less than Rs. 1 lakh) is seen to be the most optimistic in this regard.

The India Human Development Survey also found that a majority of Indians had a ‘great deal of confidence’ in the judiciary. But this is not the case everywhere.

“The people of Bastar don't even go to court or police because they see it as a tool in the hand of the State to oppress them,” says Isha Khandelwal, advocate providing legal assistance to people in Naxal-affected Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.

Researchers and lawyers present during the release of survey concurred that ‘access to justice’ should not be equated with ‘access to courts’, which is too narrow. The discourse around judicial reform needs to shift from ‘access to courts’ to ‘access to justice’.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 5:00:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/legal-system-too-expensive-for-most-study/article8514566.ece

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