Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Minister of Law and Justice, will inaugurate and deliver the key note address at a 2-day International Conference on “Equitable Access to Justice: Legal Aid and Legal Empowerment” here tomorrow. The Conference is being organized jointly by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  The Department of Justice is implementing a Project on “Access to Justice for Marginalized People” (A2J) in collaboration with the UNDP. The International Conference will mark the completion of the Project. As part of the Project, international best practices on legal empowerment and legal aid have been studied, including through field visits to South Africa, Malawi, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. The Conference will also witness discussions on best practices from these and other countries by international experts in order to draw lessons for implementing similar programmes in India in the next phase of the project beginning in 2013.  The A2J Project has witnessed the roll out of pilot programmes on legal awareness, capacity building of intermediaries including lawyers and paralegals, and has assisted vulnerable groups in accessing legal services throughout the 7 Project States of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The project has reached out to 20 lakh people through legal literacy programmes. 6,000 paralegals and 300 lawyers have been trained to reach out to the marginalized people to make them aware of their rights and entitlements, and assist them with legal aid.  India has constituted statutory authorities to provide free legal services to the poor and marginalized sections of the society. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) together with State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) are mandated to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society including legal advice, legal counseling, legal aid for filing and/or arguing matters in the courts, court fees etc. The A2J Project works closely with the National and State Legal Services Authorities and the judicial academies with a view to develop the capacity of service delivery institutions for serving the people better. The Conference will bring together members of NALSA and Executive Chairpersons and Member Secretaries of all State Legal Services Authorities across the country.  The Conference will be attended by 200 participants including 40 participants from 19countries. They will include legal luminaries like judges of Superior courts, jurists of international repute, heads of national legal aid agencies etc. They will present and share their experiences in their countries and discuss the way forward for improving access to quality and speedy justice.  The Chief Justice of India, Justice Altamas Kabir who is also the Patron-in-Chief of NALSA will deliver his valedictory address at the conclusion of the conference on 18 November.


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