Tipping the Scales: Strengthening Access to Justice in India

Last Updated - 24 Jan,2018
The Constitution of India mandates equality before the law, yet informal practices of exclusion and inequality continue to plague our legal systems. Universal access to justice is not just an end in itself, but is also an enabler for good governance in a democracy. To increase and improve access to justice for its citizens, India needs to create an environment where all elements needed to help people seek grievance redressal and to uphold their rights exist. Dasra’s report, Tipping the Scales, maps and presents solutions to the spectrum of issues that obstruct universal access to justice in India. It also profiles 10 NGOs doing critical and impactful work on the ground in this sector.
  • Litigants spend INR 30,000 crore per year just to attend courts
  • 74% of litigants preferred out of court settlement to avoid legal complications
  • As of 2015, 65% of the prison population were undertrials, not convicts
There is also growing momentum around issues of access to justice for several reasons:
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (adopted in 2015) underscore the importance of access to justice for development. This provides us with a unique opportunity to garner political support, and direct attention and financing towards issues of access to justice in India.
  • Legal restrictions of foreign funding for nonprofits working on these issues significantly limit capital in this space. There is a critical need for Indian funders to fill this vacuum to enable nonprofits to continue their work.
Dasra has identified the following four priority areas for action which can make a fundamental difference to the experience of seeking and delivering justice in India.
  1. Make laws accessible and comprehensible for legal empowerment: This will enable each citizen to know of and take legal recourse when his/her rights are violated.
  2. Ensure high quality, affordable legal aid: Should he/she choose to access courts, legal aid guarantees every individual a chance at a fair trial, regardless of economic and social background.
  3. Streamline case management processes in courts: This will reduce the period of time for which litigants are embroiled in the system, as well as build greater trust in the system.
  4. Drive accountability and support police and prison systems: Such assistance will help these agencies operate more sensitively and effectively to uphold the rights of all citizens including victims, accused, undertrials and the most marginalized.
Through expert interviews, interactions with and visits to multiple nonprofits working on the ground in this sector, Dasra has identified 8 key interventions to enhance access to justice in India.
  • Conduct research and advocacy for legislative change: Nonprofits conduct research to identify gaps in our existing laws and their implementation, and use this evidence to advocate for legal change.
  • Create/strengthen legal awareness: Most organizations working to facilitate justice in India undertake mass legal awareness activities such as organizing legal awareness camps, sessions and workshops.
  • Provide legal aid (legal counseling and legal representation): Nonprofits provide and/or facilitate pro bono legal support for economically disadvantaged claimants.
  • Train lawyers and paralegals to ensure quality of legal aid: Organizations invest in developing capable local representatives into paralegals and training lawyers to improve the quality of legal aid.
  • Facilitate case management: Effective case management interventions take the form of third party assistance (digital or otherwise) in scheduling and managing caseloads.
  • Training police officials and/or prison authorities in effective law enforcement: Nonprofits conduct training and sensitization workshops with law enforcement authorities to ensure that legal procedures are effectively implemented on the ground.
  • Monitor and ensure accountability of police and/or prison authorities: Certain organizations take on the critical role of third party monitoring to identify wrongdoings by police and/or prison authorities and submit them to relevant agencies for action.
  • Provide psycho-social and rehabilitative support to inmates, released prisoners and their families: Nonprofits conduct in-prison programs to address the legal, developmental and psycho-social needs of prisoners and provide rehabilitation support after their release.
  • Fund high impact organizations that have been identified by Dasra after an assessment of over 100 organizations.
  • Contact one of these organizations to explore opportunities to partner.
  • Share this page with people you know to direct more support to this cause.