The Department of Justice (DoJ), Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India (GoI) is implementing a Project on “Access to Justice for Marginalized People” (A2J) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The A2J Project aims to strengthen access to justice for the marginalized, particularly, women and those from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities, by supporting strategies and initiatives which seek to address the barriers they face, due to lack of awareness, inaccessibility of legal aid and absence of other support services to facilitate access to justice. The Project focuses on the demand side by empowering the poor and marginalized to be aware of their rights and demand justice, while at the same time addresses the supply side by supporting key justice delivery institutions in providing improved services to the poor.
Across the world, several legal aid and legal empowerment strategies are in place. In India, legislative frameworks mandate legal aid service provision. In addition, several non-governmental actors also provide legal empowerment services. However, several challenges remain to be overcome, especially in terms of outreach and the quality of legal aid services.
To address these challenges and to strengthen strategies aimed at increasing access to justice through legal aid and legal empowerment services, an International Conference on Equitable Access to Justice: Legal Aid and Legal Empowerment was held in New Delhi on 17- 18 November 2012. This international conference offered a platform to peer review and exchange experiences highlighting successful models and best practices on access to justice and legal aid from across the world, which could possibly be replicated in India or elsewhere. It presented and discussed the challenges faced and the strategies adopted by the existing legal aid systems across the world. The conference also added immense value to the A2J project in India, which is scheduled for a new phase of programming from 2013.
The key objectives of the conference were:
a. Exchange on global and regional legal aid and legal empowerment practices: international frameworks, best practices and challenges in ensuring quality legal aid services.
b. Sharing on strategies for capacity development of service delivery institutions and strengthening equitable access to justice.