Para-medical? Para-military? Sounds familiar, right! But what about paralegals?
Ok, one more hint role of Meghan Markel in Legal Drama titled “Suits” where she plays the role of Rachel Zane who works as a paralegal in the firm partnered by Harvey Spectre.
I being a law student came across this word only in my final semester when a subject titled Paralegal Services was offered as an elective. The irony is that the legislation which envisages free legal aid in India that is Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 and General Clauses Act 1897 does not define the word paralegals. The word paralegal is a compound word made up of word para and legal. The word is usually used as prefix and means beside or side by side, hence when added in front of the word legal it means someone who helps legal professionals to carry out their day to day activities. Though their job is related to the law they work outside courts. They cannot act or take decisions independently and require constant guidance and supervision of senior lawyers. In some countries, they are called by the names like non-lawyers, legal assistants and community legal worker.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines paralegal as someone who has a basic degree in law and helps a lawyer in his practice of law but himself he is not a licensed attorney. Hence, he cannot appear in courts of law. The All India Seminar on Legal Aid which was held on 14th and 15th September 1991 in Hyderabad defined Para- Legal’s as barefoot lawyers who go to far-flung areas in order to disseminate legal literacy and raise awareness among downtrodden people about their rights guaranteed by Constitution of India and rights under various other enactments. In the same Seminar, Justice Kania had remarked these people are playing a noble job of bringing legal domain within reach of common people.
Paralegal Services in Different Countries
Many legal luminaries are of the view that services of these paralegal volunteers can be availed to reduce the overburdened judiciary of India. Since these paralegal volunteers are doing a great social service enough incentives and status should be given to them in society.
The Bar Council of India had made it mandatory in Law Colleges to have Paralegal Services as a clinical course in LL.B where law students will be provided training to act as paralegal volunteers in remote areas.
In the year 1995 students of Bangalore Law School were able to release 500 under trails from jail and helped in resolving as many as 2000 cases that were pending before Consumer Forum. The organizations actively involved in paralegal services in India are:- Rotary Club, Rotary International, All India Women Associations, Young Mizo Association etc.
Paralegals in Canada are not licensed and are not authorized to represent a client in courts of law, except in the State of Ontario where paralegals are given license to practice by Law Society of Ontario. They are permitted to provide legal services to clients and have the capacity to appear in lower courts and before certain tribunals.
The USA is perhaps one of those countries wherein a large number paralegals services are availed. They are mostly referred to by the name legal assistants. They are used in research and preparation of litigation cases, briefs etc. American Bar Association Committee’s position paper recommended against giving licenses to the paralegals.
Of late it has been seen that there is not much trend in Australia to appoint paralegals. At one conference “Access to Law” calls for incorporating services of paralegals was made, and the legal system should not be stuck to traditional court and lawyering services. The National Legal Aid Advisory Committee which was established to advise the Ministry of Justice recommended that paralegals can help in bringing down escalating litigation expenditures.
DUTIES OF PARALEGALS ACCORDING TO NATIONAL LEGAL SERVICE
• Their fundamental responsibility is to educate people about their rights.
• They have to help people to approach the right forums to get justice.
• They have to give addresses about Taluk level, District Level, State Level, National Level legal Service Authorities and make people aware of their functions.
• They have to help authorities to organize legal aid camps from time to time on various subject matters.
• They work on a grassroots level and keep eye on any cases of transgression of the legal system.
• They also contribute to framing victim compensation schemes under Section 457 –A Cr.P.C.
• Awareness of alternative forms of justice like mediation, arbitration, and Lok adalats.
• They make awareness about how public utility service matters can be solved in Permanent Lok Adalats
• Inspecting jails, lock-ups, rehabilitation homes to check whether they are hygienic and basic facilities are provided to them.
Since it is a way of giving back to the society, in India it is a sure shot way to change the face of the judiciary in a sustainable manner.