Social Cause Lawyering in the spirit of the Constitution

What does popularisation of constitutional values’, realisation of legal rights’, and access to justice’ for the marginalised mean in actionable terms?

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Equal access to justice for all sections of the society is an important facet of the Indian Constitutional framework. Public spirited lawyering is of great significance in enabling access to justice through realisation of our fundamental constitutional rights. 

By public spirited lawyering, we refer to all kinds of professional engagement by lawyers that is particularly focused on helping the poor and marginalised sections of the society in gaining access to justice. 

Unfortunately, even despite the many years after the coming into force of the Indian constitution, the literacy of fundamental rights and its consequent value system has been scant especially among the underprivileged members of our society. 

Therefore, enabling the popularisation of the constitutional value system, and eventually also helping such sections of the society in realising their legal rights is important in the pursuit of a just society. 

But what does popularisation of constitutional values’, realisation of legal rights’, and access to justice’ for the marginalised mean in actionable terms? Of course, there is no single template to realise these goals. 

However, history tells us an interesting tale of the various ways in which lawyers, through the use of their professional training, have contributed to these goals. Whether by teaching, engaging in the discourse of fundamental rights with the disadvantaged sections of the society, or through public interest litigations, lawyers have utilised the many avenues available to them for public spirited lawyering.

Interestingly, these avenues are dynamic, and they change depending on the social, political, and economic climate of the country. Since these variables are ever evolving, so also the avenues for public spirited lawyering keep changing. 

It is natural, especially for changes in the political and legal institutions, to impact public spirited lawyering. For example, even though the remedy of public interest litigation has existed for a few decades now, it has come under criticism for enabling judicial activism. Likewise, the attitude of the courts towards Public Interest Litigation (PIL) have evolved. 

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Agenda

We are bringing together lawyers and academics interested and engaged in public spirited lawyering to discuss its changing avenues in the current socio-political climate.

The discussion will attempt to answer:

  • What does it take to popularise our constitutional value system, and eventually also helping vulnerable sections of the society in realising their legal rights in our pursuit of a just society?
  • What are the avenues of public-spirited lawyering in India currently, and how are they changing?
  • The significance of public-spirited lawyering, which is required more so currently than ever before.

Who should join

We invite all law students, graduates, and practitioners who are interested in social cause lawyering or in pro-bono advocacy. In particular, graduating law students will find it interesting if they are also looking for avenues for further studies related to the topic, or are curious about the social cause-based exchanges at the University.

Our Panelists

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Abhayraj Naik is a visiting faculty member at the Azim Premji University. He is a co-founder of the Initiative for Climate Action, an active member of the Global Alliance for Justice Education, and an advisor to several progressive social and environmental causes in India and other parts of the world. Abhayraj helped initiate the Crafting Justice events that focused on experiential learning and justice in 2017. He is currently building a South Asian Network for Justice Education as well as an alternative learning centre in Bengaluru. Abhayraj holds degrees from the National Law School of India University and the Yale Law School.

Arvind Narrain is a visiting faculty at the School of Policy and Governance at Azim Premji University. He is most recently the author of India’s Undeclared Emergency: Constitutionalism and the politics of resistance’. He is a co-founder of the Alternative Law Forum, a human rights lawyering organisation based in Bengaluru. He was also a part of the team of lawyers challenging Section 377 of the IPC right from the High Court in 2009 to the Supreme Court in 2018.

Nikita Sonavane has worked as a legal researcher and an advocate for five years. She is the founder of the Criminal Justice and police Accountability Project (CPA Project), a Bhopal based litigation and research intervention focused on building accountability against criminalisation of oppressed caste communities by the police and the criminal justice system. Nikita has previously worked on issues of local governance, forest rights, and gender in Gujarat. Nikita graduated with an LLM in Law and Development from Azim Premji University. She is also a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford working on anti-discrimination law in India.

Sitharamam Kakarala is the Director of School of Policy and Governance at Azim Premji University. He teaches courses on research methods, human rights and development, and technology and human rights. His research interests include interdisciplinary legal studies, legal and political theory, human rights law, technology and human rights, comparative constitutionalism and legal education in India. He holds an LLM from Nottingham University and PhD from Centre for Social Studies.