Co-Founder and Country Director, iProbono India
New Delhi: On Wednesday evening, iProbono inaugurated its appellate panel of pro bono lawyers at the India International Centre. The aim of the panel constituted by iProbono in collaboration with the Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ), is to provide pro bono legal assistance to survivors of child sexual abuse before the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi.
Hon'ble Mr. Justice Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court presided over the event, alongwith Senior Advocates Meenakshi Arora, Raju Ramachandran and Sidharth Luthra from the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. Also addressing the audience was Munira*, the parent of a survivor of sexual abuse.
Over the course of the evening, the speakers drew attention to the ways in which lawyers could make crucial changes in order to facilitate access to justice for survivors of sexual abuse. The discussion was presided over by Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ravindra Bhat. The panellists each shared their longstanding experiences with undertaking legal aid work for underserved litigants.
The panellists noted that the intervention by the courts into matters of sexual abuse was previously unknown and that there was no network to consolidate efforts. The panellists applauded the initiative by iProbono on the basis of pooling the resources and use of technology.
Raju Ramachandran agreed on the importance of pro bono work, “Earlier, the idea of legal aid was almost unknown and hence there was no formal, institutionalised structure. We have come a very long way since then. It’s a part of everyone’s social conscience – to give freely of their professional time and do pro bono work. When courts designate lawyers as senior advocates, their pro bono work should be an important consideration.”
Munira* shared her experience as a litigant and reflected on her personal struggles with the criminal justice system. She shared her experiences on the humiliating cross-examination that her child had to suffer, at the tender age of 4 years. Meenakshi Arora, who represented women’s organisations in the landmark ‘Vishakha’ case, said “It’s appalling that Munira and her daughter had to face this. We need to have proper systems in place and awareness for lawyers so that they treat victims and their families with the respect that they deserve.”
Holding up Munira’s case as a benchmark, Swathi Sukumar, Co-Founder and Country Director, iProbono India, highlighted the importance of constituting a dedicated panel. “Munira’s case highlights the stark difference in having a skilled and trained lawyer on your side, and inspired iProbono to set up a dedicated panel of pro bono lawyers to represent. With the help of the skilled lawyers that we have on the Panel, we hope to be able to achieve the goal of equal access to justice for all.”