"Disheartening state of affairs", Kerala HC calls for training of Legal Aid counsel

Rintu Mariam Biju November 8 2019
Legal Aid

While dealing with a criminal appeal, the Kerala High Court recently commented on the poor condition and quality of the legal aid services provided by lawyers in the state.

A Bench of Justices A Hariprasad and N Anil Kumar stated that the implementation of the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and the Kerala State Legal Services Authority Regulation, 1998 “falls short of the expected standard.”

The Court further said that it is the duty of the lawyer to do justice to the parties with “utmost commitment”. In this regard, the judgment states,

"...legal aid counsel engaged as above must show utmost dedication and sincerity to his job so as to effectively defend the accused persons, especially those who are involved in serious cases of this nature, should be fulfilled in letter and spirit...

...Responsibility vested with the legal aid counsel is very heavy and they are expected to discharge it with utmost commitment."

In the instant case, the victim, Mohanan Paninjon, had been physically assaulted by the appellant, Jomon Kava, who had hit and kicked the former on vital parts of his body. Due to the severity of the multiple injuries inflicted, the victim died shortly after reaching the hospital. The allegation was that appellant had enmity towards the victim, and therefore had the intention to kill him.

Therefore, the Additional District Court (ADHOC)-II, Kottayam convicted the appellant under Section 302 (punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The prosecution report read that most of the injuries were “contusions and abrasions”.

After hearing the case, the High Court stated that it would not come under the ambit of Section 300 IPC, as there was no material proof to show “intention” of the appellant to murder the victim. In this regard, the Court held,

“We are inclined to think that the appellant has committed culpable homicide falling under Section 299 of IPC. But in the absence of any intention to commit murder and also any of the ingredients under Section 300 of IPC to attract the offence of murder, we are of the view that the appellant is guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder falling under Section 304 Part II of IPC”.

After taking into account all facts and circumstances of the case, the High Court sentenced the appellant to seven years' rigorous imprisonment.

The Court then proceeded to take note of submissions of advocate Renjith Marar who had pointed out that legal aid lawyers had not taken proper efforts to study the case and effectively defend the accused. The order states,

At times, the material witnesses on the prosecution side are not properly cross-examined and even material contradictions are not marked properly”.

The Court also directed the Chairman of the District Legal Service Authority to appoint a person competent enough to defend the accused rather than just mechanically appointing a lawyer. It was further observed that the legal aid counsel should be properly trained properly to increase their efficiency in order to be well equipped to defend those people who have no means of appointing a lawyer.

To this end, it was suggested that the Kerala State Legal Services Authority, in collaboration with the Kerala Judicial Academy, impart training to legal aid counsel.

"The Registrar (Subordinate Judiciary) shall communicate a copy of this judgment to the Member Secretary, Kerala State Legal Services Authority and the Director, Kerala Judicial Academy for taking up the matter on the administrative side. A copy of this judgment shall also be communicated to all Chairmen of the District Legal Services Authorities in the State."

[Read the Judgment]

Jomon Kava v State of Kerala