More than two years ago, we at iProbono, helped Amal*, a 3-year-old survivor of sexual assault get justice and hope for a better future. Following that case, we recognised the need for a specialised panel of motivated lawyers to work on child sexual abuse matters and launched our first Appellate Panel of Pro Bono lawyers in March 2015. Over the past two years, this panel has worked extensively to enable access to justice for child sexual abuse survivors from disadvantaged sections of the society. In this period, lawyers from the panel have represented 28 such children in the Delhi High Court. Some notable achievements of the panel in this period have been; securing fairer compensation for a boy who had been sexually assaulted by his classmates, helping a 16-year-old survivor of incest and sexual abuse remain in care of a shelter and ensuring that a 12-year-old who was raped by her father could access her right to legal representation.
Earlier this year, we put out a call for advocates to reconstitute the Appellate Panel. We received an overwhelming response and hence decided to form two separate panels comprising of 16 lawyers each. The first of these panels will focus on criminal law matters related to child sexual abuse while the other will take up civil litigation matters. The panel selection was based on area of expertise, specifically in criminal law, seniority, and previous experience in pro bono work. All the panelist lawyers will be working pro bono and have an experience of five years or more in litigation.
On April 17, 2017, we inaugurated these Appellate Panels for the next two years, at the India International Centre in Delhi.
The inauguration was chaired by Hon’ble Mr. Justice S. Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court. He was joined by Senior Advocate, Mr. Sidharth Luthra from the Delhi High Court and Ms. Bharti Ali, Founder of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights.
The event started with a welcome note by Swathi Sukumar, Co-Founder iProbono India, followed by a short presentation by Saurabh Malik, iProbono’s Child Rights’ Program Manager. Over the course of the afternoon, the speakers drew attention to the various issues related to cases of child sexual abuse and the existing gap between law and its implementation.
They also spoke about ways in which lawyers could make essential changes in order to facilitate access to justice for survivors of sexual abuse. Justice Bhat also took a moment to praise iProbono’s efforts, “My engagement with iProbono has sensitised me towards the need for legal aid for children”, he said. Advocate Luthra voiced the need to expand such work to other parts of the country, making quality legal aid accessible to a larger community. Ms. Bharti Ali highlighted the significance of having a panel like this, and stressed on the importance of compiling research based on our work. She also emphasized on expanding the work to the trial court level.
To conclude the evening, all newly selected panelists shared their experience and interest in undertaking pro bono legal aid work for vulnerable litigants. The team at iProbono is looking forward to working with the lawyers from both Panels. With their help, we aim to reach out to many more disadvantaged individuals, and help realise the goal of access to justice for all.
Swati Jain – Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, iProbono