A free Legal Aid clinic Neethi Karangal (‘Hands of Justice’), was launched on Thursday at the Madras High Court. Neethi Karangal is an initiative of the Madras Bar Association (MBA) and the Tamil Nadu Senior Advocates Forum.
This legal aid clinic aims to connect needy litigants with experienced Senior Advocates, thereby ensuring quality pro bono legal services.
The inauguration was graced by the presence of Justice AK Goel of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justices S Manikumar and MM Sundresh, who form part of the Tamil Nadu Legal Services Authority, were also among the dignitaries present.
In his welcome address, Advocate General for Tamil Nadu and President of the MBA, Vijay Narayan opined that there comes a time in a lawyer’s life when it is time to give back to the society.
“For this institution of lawyers, the Madras Bar Association, which is the oldest bar association in India, that time has come today,” he remarked.
He said that there is a need to provide legal aid for deserving people, which should be undertaken by Senior Advocates. The need to carry out such an initiative was talked over between the advocates of the High Court for a long time before it crystallised as Neethi Karangal. In this regard, the way forward has become easier since the introduction of the Legal Services Act.
Narayan noted that two factors served to bolster this initiative. The first was the formation of the TN Senior Advocates Forum. The second was the verdict in Indira Jaising’s Senior Designations case, wherein pro bono legal service has also been listed as an important criterion to determine eligibility for designation as a senior. As he concluded his address, Narayan expressed hope that associations in other High Courts would also follow suit.
The idea for the initiative can be traced to a recommendation made by then Chief Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul on the occasion of his departure from the Madras High Court.
Speaking at Thursday’s event, Senior Advocate PS Raman recounted that Justice Kaul had proposed that the Senior Advocates of the Court should get together as an unofficial forum. This eventually led to the formation of the TN Senior Advocates Forum.
Raman, who is the convener of the Forum, informed that the idea behind the forum was to meet and discuss issues pertaining to the court and litigation. Further, the forum could carry back feedback, if any to other advocates and judges, particularly if they were of a delicate nature and not ideally carried through associations and the like.
On the Neethi Karangal initiative, Raman remarked that it would be ideal if cases are allotted to lawyers depending on their area of expertise. This would be in the interest of the litigant as well as the advocate handling the case.
Raman’s address was followed by the unveiling of the logo for the clinic. The logo consists of olive branches, an advocate’s band and the scales of justice, all of which are enveloped by a pair of hands.
The logo was designed by Senior Advocates P Wilson and Vijay Narayan and Advocate VR Kamalanathan. The branches in the logo symbolise peace, the band represents the advocates, the scales stand for the court and the hands are meant to represent the arms of justice.
Senior Advocate P Wilson was specially acknowledged for his contributions to developing the logo as well as the name of the initiative i.e. Neethi Karangal. The Tamil name was deliberately chosen so that it is familiar for the ordinary litigant.
In his address, Justice AK Goel lauded the initiative as he spoke admiringly of the contributions of Tamil Nadu, including the contributions of freedom fighters and social reformers. He recalled the words of Abdul J Kalam when he said, think of what you can give, not what you can get. He spoke on the need to prioritise Constitutional values and the country. He made particular reference to Ambedkar’s speech on the occasion of the adoption of the Constitution, when it was said,
“Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them.”
Referring to these words, Goel remarked,
“That perhaps is what is happening today. Why are there so many cases coming before the court?”
He said that unless these values are in the hearts and minds of people and those running the system, there will be a constant struggle for rights, even if courts work in the most efficient way.
In this context, Justice Goel remarked that these rights of equality and liberty have to be made available in a natural way. He thus welcomed the initiative. Justice Goel concluded his address by asking the legal aid team to consider providing assistance so that the rights of persons are upheld and they do not have to come to court in the first place.
Chief Justice Indira Banerjee expressed her pride in being part of a High Court where the lawyers took up the initiative of such a noble cause on their own.
“We all owe something back to the society…the senior advocates have shown the way,” she remarked.
She expressed further appreciation for the fact that the initiative is carried forward by persons who are already designated, thereby having no personal interest in undertaking the cause. She emphasised on the need to ensure that the legal services provided are those of quality.
She noted that the impediments to ensuring quality in free legal services included the lack of infrastructure and staff. The other obstacle is the misconception that only those lawyers who are not good enough would enroll to provide free legal services. For this reason, she thanked the Madras High Court senior advocates for helping to clear this misconception with the launch of Neethi Karangal.
Justice S Manikumar, Chairman, and Justice MM Sundresh, member of the Tamil Nadu Legal Services Authority also spoke a few words on the occasion. The vote of thanks was rendered by Advocate VR Kamalanathan, secretary of the MBA.