GOVERNANCE COURTS AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE STRATEGIC INITIATIVES
India has one of the highest number of pre-trial detainees or undertrials in the world. Undertrials make up 67.6% (95.7% male and 4.3% female) of the total prison population, as per the Prison Statistics India Report, 2014. Many are in prison for petty offences, and are too poor to secure bail or pay for lawyers. A majority are either Dalits, Adivasis or from minority communities.
Our Courts and Criminal Justice programme is part of our commitment to ensure access to justice for vulnerable communities. After identifying states where the undertrial population is largest and where there is an interest in addressing the issue at a systemic level, we have chosen Maharashtra to be the first state for our programme. Our focus is to provide high quality legal aid at the earliest possible stage to reduce the number of undertrials and thereby, create a functioning model of legal aid to ensure that undertrials do not languish in jails across the country. The model will involve rapid prototyping of different models of legal support that can be provided to different categories of undertrials.
We aim to support young lawyers/law students through a Plead for India Fellowship so that they will support legal aid lawyers who represent Undertrials. We shall work with the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA), as well as retired members of the judiciary, Law Schools or Universities. We hope the Fellowship will ensure that young lawyers/students in these states are paid, mentored and motivated to offer the best possible legal aid to the undertrials. At the end of three years, a functioning model of legal aid will be demonstrated with National Law Universities anchoring the fellowship programme. We also hope to scale up the programme to other states.