An urgent need to fight against legal illiteracy

The concept of legal literacy is based on the principle that each individual should be aware of their rights and obligations. The maxim ‘ignorantia juris non-excusat’, or “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, implies that the Court presumes that each party is aware of the law and therefore cannot invoke ignorance of the law as a defense to evade its law. responsibility. This Latin maxim and its vast legal repercussions belong to the common law system. It was developed by the Western imperialist nations and has persisted in India’s legal system as a by-product of its history as a British colony. However, if one were to take stock of the state of literacy in India, the aforementioned maxim would be an odious assumption based on idealistic principles. Thus, it is extremely urgent to recognize the problem of legal illiteracy in India.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the terrible repercussions of legal illiteracy in India. The serious human rights violations that occurred during the pandemic could have been avoided had India been more aware of the law.

For example, complaints of domestic violence filed during the lockdown hit a 10-year high in 2020. This figure is all the more alarming given that 86% of women who experience such violence in India do not seek help. the police abuse of power and the increase in police brutality during lockdown is another worrying trend. The vulnerable poor and the illiterate were often arbitrarily arrested for minor problems. In addition, the emergence of virtual courts has hampered access to justice for people with technological disabilities. In addition, there is an increase in violations of labor laws and the emergence of bioethics problems. The authors believe that the majority of these deprivation of rights issues can be attributed to the lack of legal knowledge in India.

Legal Literacy in India

Ignorance of the law is so widespread that often the offender comes to know the law prohibiting something after having committed the crime, without knowing the legal implications of such an action. People living in society are to some extent part of a social contract in which they have renounced certain rights and accepted certain obligations. In India, people simply do not know their rights and obligations under the social contract.

About 35% of the Indian population has no formal education. Ignoring the applicability of human rights, people, especially women and children, fail to report such crimes and perpetrators go unpunished. While we have no clue or scale that determines the status of legal consciousness, we can still say that India still has a long way to go before it achieves the necessary preconditions to meaningfully impose the rule. of “ignorentia juris non excusat.”

Reasons for legal illiteracy

The preconceived idea that the law is inherently complex and can only be understood by people belonging only to the legal fraternity, is a major barrier to legal literacy. It is only reinforced by unnecessarily long and lengthy judicial declarations. The language is sometimes so complex that even judges and lawyers find it difficult to understand it. The prolixity of legal jargon has limited knowledge of the law to a few. It is high time that justice insisted on the need to write complete judgments but brief, lucid, concise, in order to be able to read and understand them without difficulty.

Another reason is the legislator’s lack of efforts to make the language of laws more accessible to citizens. The majority of efforts towards legal literacy have come from NGOs and civil society working in the field of legal aid. NGOs like CLAP India and MARG organize legal awareness camps for vulnerable social groups and publicize their rights and protections under the Constitution and other laws.

Work done by government and NGOs

Article 39A of the Constitution imposes on the government a duty to provide free legal assistance to the poor within the framework of the guiding principles of state policy. Articles 14 and 22 (1) primarily promote social justice through the “rule of law”. The same idea has been emphasized by various legal decisions of different courts. The state is therefore obliged to provide citizens with a minimum of legal knowledge to effectively protect fundamental and other rights.

In 1980, under the leadership of Judge PN Bhagwati, the Legal Aid Programs Implementation Committee was formed. Therefore, in 1995 the National Legal Services Authority have been established. The authority has a hierarchical structure constituted at the national, state and district levels. One of the main functions of these legal service authorities is to organize legal literacy and awareness programs in collaboration with NGOs.

In 2005, the National Legal Literacy Mission was launched with the motto “From ignorance to legal empowerment”, to educate minority communities, especially women and children. The target group of the mission included all eligible people mentioned in section 12 of the Legal Services Authority Act 1987, which includes the most destitute, distraught, vulnerable and victimized people such as women and children. belonging to SC, ST, OBC, minority communities or belonging to tribal areas, etc. The mission also aims to simplify the language of the law. But the mission was not a great success as it did not receive separate funds. Funding was provided by funds allocated to the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

NALSA has many programs that aim to achieve legal literacy and promote legal awareness, such as the establishment of legal literacy clubs in schools and colleges. The clubs strive to educate the student community about legal rights, duties and obligations. Campaigns run by the clubs cover general issues such as ragging, female feticide, child marriage, the right to education, domestic violence, anti-trafficking laws, sexual harassment, rape , etc.

The State Legal Services Authority across India has proposed various initiatives for the cause. LSA Himanchal Pradesh has successfully included chapters in textbooks on rights and duties, LSA Chandigarh regularly organizes street plays and workshops, LSA Delhi has taken various initiatives such as radio programs, film documentaries and the publication of advertisements in books and magazines, etc. There is no straight jacket model. The authority adopts various methods depending on the population of a given region.

Initiatives like NLLM by the government and workshops by NGOs have tried to steer citizens towards increased legal literacy, but the data on their effectiveness is not optimistic. A political initiative based on the principle of cooperative federalism should be taken to ensure that legal literacy campaigns are adapted to the needs of each community. Legal literacy should begin at the Zila panchayat level by inculcating simplified legal knowledge in adult literacy classes. In addition, law as a subject should be introduced in primary education to educate young children on fundamental laws, rights and duties, the language of instruction being a vernacular.

It is also imperative to change things at the legislative level by removing unnecessary legal jargon and redundancy in acts and orders. Understanding the laws need not be a difficult task for the very people who are governed by them.

Finally, the judiciary must also recognize its responsibility to make justice more accessible to all, whatever their economic and social situation. Courts should avoid using complicated language in court decisions for the sake of clarity to the layman.

Mass legal education will make the implementation of policies much easier in our country. Until then “ignorentia juris non excusat” will remain synonymous with social injustice.

Opinions are personal.

About Bernice Dyer

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