Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan on Saturday stressed the need to protect the rights of the poor and marginalised sections of the society, including women, victims of human trafficking, HIV infected persons and sex workers.
"Legal institutions need to be physically and economically accessible to the needy," Justice Balakrishnan said inaugurating the 6th All India Meet of the State Legal Services Authorities in Kochi.
The problems of workers in the unorganised sectors such as the construction industry, workers in tea gardens should be addressed and implementation of labour laws must be ensured. The existing system of legal aid to the prisoners and persons lodged in correctional homes needs to be revamped, he said.
"Justice system provides a vehicle to mediate conflict, resolve disputes and sustain social order. But inequitable justice system may perpetuate inequality, traps by maintaining elite interests and discriminatory practices," he said.
"The existence of an independent judiciary by itself was not enough to protect citizens against the abuse of power. People's legal rights may remain theoretical if the institutions charged with enforcing them are inaccessible," he said.
"Accessibility depends on how compatible laws are with the norms and understandings that shapes the lives of the people," he said.
Despite efforts, the Constitutional goals of equal opportunities are yet to be realised by millions of Indians who need support for access to justice, he said.
Though 25 years have passed since the implementation of the Legal Services Authorities Act, there was much to be done in the field of legal aid, he said.
India being a poor country, legal aid to the poor people has always been a serious problem confronting the authorities.
Though there were suggestions of providing free legal aid to the poor persons with the State making available necessary funds through taxes, not much progress could be made in this regard, he said.
"Legal institutions can uphold the political rights of citizens and curb the capture of the state by elite. They can equalise economic opportunities by protecting property rights for all and ensuring non discrimination in the market," he said adding people should be encouraged to avail the benefits intended to be conferred on them by the State.
Voluntary organisations and student community, especially law students should find out the vulnerable areas and help empower the marginalised sections by giving them free legal assistance and access to the present judicial system.
Union Minister of state for Law, K Venkatapathy said a large chunk of the population was unable to approach judiciary effectively mainly due to economic deprivation and poverty. Court fees, professional fees of lawyers and other incidental expenses like getting authenticated copies of documents make justice costlier for them.