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US looking at India for legal aid lessons

The judiciary in the US is looking at India for tips on how to provide legal assistance to the poor on a shoestring budget. Satya Prakash and Bhadra Sinha report.

delhi Updated: Dec 07, 2011 01:00 IST

The judiciary in the US is looking at India for tips on how to provide legal assistance to the poor on a shoestring budget.

Although the slowdown-hit US economy is generating more civil cases of foreclosure, consumer credit and eviction, the litigants simply don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer.

And unlike in criminal cases, the US government is not mandated to provide legal aid in civil cases.

More than 90% litigants in civil cases go unrepresented in New York State alone with US authorities having slashed the legal budget by $170 million from $2.5 billion in 2010.

“We have come here to understand the access to the justice system and intend to replicate India’s best legal aid practices,” Justice Fern Fisher, deputy chief administrative judge and director of New York State access to justice program, told HT.

Justice Fisher and Fred P Rooney, director of the Community Legal Resource Network of the City University of New York School of Law (CUNY), have been scouting for legal aid programmes in India.

They were in Delhi after visiting Symbiosis Law School in Pune and a law college in Goa to study the involvement of law students in legal service programmes.

Justice Fisher said during her earlier visit 19 months ago, she learnt about the mobile justice system in Haryana.

“I had this idea, but didn’t know how to implement it. On learning about this system already working in India, I decided to launch it in New York,” she said.

The mobile system will work for those who can’t reach the court. “A trailer would have CUNY law students on board to assist senior citizens or the poor who can’t afford lawyers.”