|Thursday, 11 September 2003|
Legal assistance to under privileged, poor a necessity - Attorney General
by Sarath Malalasekera
"The principle of equality entrenched in our Constitution will be meaningless if there is no equal representation in a Court of Law. Today, the cream of society could retain the cream of the legal profession, even though, the majority of the litigants cannot afford the services of lawyers.
They could be disadvantaged due to their poverty, if they do not have trained pleaders to present their cases. Legal assistance therefore to the under privileged and the poor segment of the people is a necessity. That would ensure that they are not deprived of justice," said Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabeyson PC addressing the Legal Aid Day and the 11th anniversary of the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) held at the BASL auditorium recently.
The adversarial system that prevails in Sri Lanka is another crucial factor which warrants legal representation in a Court of Law. The Court is required to consider the evidence placed before it, evaluate the submissions and deliver its judgement. A layman, particularly one who is illiterate or under privileged, cannot make substantial contribution on his behalf. He needs a lawyer to plead his case. It is in this background that legal aid assumes high priority. It is no exaggeration to say that one aspect of the welfare state is the existence of a strong and effective legal aid system, the Attorney General said.
Legal aid received statutory recognition with the enactment of the Legal Aid Law in 1978 which brought into existence the Legal Aid Commission. Prior to this in the 60's and the 70's, the then Bar Council and the Law Society provided legal assistance to those who cannot afford lawyers. In 1970 the Asia Foundation established a programme called the Student Legal Aid programme in which the law students were actively involved.
They were entrusted with the task of obtaining instructions from the clients and presenting a full note to the lawyers assigned by the Legal Aid, the Attorney General said and added at times, disputes were resolved by the law students interviewing the relevant organisations.
The legal officers of such organisations often appreciated the role played by the students and recommended relief wherever possible.
The Attorney General emphasised that in some of the foreign jurisdictions there are large departments handling exclusively legal aid work. Unfortunately, such a system is not available in our country. However, we are fortunate that there are dedicated men and women who are conscious of the plight of those who cannot afford lawyers and who have contributed their professional skill and time in the name of justice and fair play. 'To this end we now have a properly organised system put in place by the Legal Aid Foundation.
On the other hand, the Bar Association had undertaken the commendable task improving the quality of its members. The combination of these factors would undoubtedly enhance the quality of service that a poor litigant would receive through the Legal Aid Foundation.'
The Attorney General paid glowing tribute to LAF Chairman S.S. Wijeratne and his staff for their dedicated and sincere service in bringing justice to the poorer sections of our society. Legal Aid which was almost dormant in the past has been effectively activated by this foundation and the credit must go to the untiring efforts of its chairman.
The Attorney General said that he will give the maximum assistance to the Legal Aid Foundation as and when they need the help of the Attorney General's Department. LAF Director Ms. Sumana Beneragama delivered the vote of thanks.
Produced by Lake House