Advocate Kiran Kumari Sah, who was appointed by Province 2 government as legal aid provider in Saptari district, has been doing things that Baitanik Wakils (stipendiary lawyers) appointed by District Legal Aid Committee cannot do.

Sah provides free legal aid to case parties, mostly victims of domestic violence and sexual violence right from the moment the victims suffer violence.

"I am available for those who need legal aid even at night or early morning. Victims are innocent, and they do not know where they should go to get justice. I try to coordinate response from different government bodies and hospitals so that victims can get justice without delay," Sah said. She added that most of the victims told her that after she provided free legal aid to them, their tormentors never dared to victimise them again.

Sah provides legal aid to at least 40 people every month.

Province 2 is the only province that provides legal aid at the province-level.

Sah says people in the village area still believe that it is not wrong to slap the wife or daughter-in-law. "I tell people that women should be treated equally and with dignity. I tell them if you cannot have physical relation with your spouse without their consent, you should not think that you can abuse your spouse. Many people get the message and say sorry to me and the victims," Sah added.

Chief Attorney of Province 2 Dipendra Jha said legal aid programme run by the provincial government was very effective and other provinces could also serve the public well if they emulated the programme.

He said 500 people, who needed legal aid but could not afford it, got legal aid from lawyers appointed by the provincial government.

Executive Director of PDS-Nepal Ajay Shankar Jha said the legal aid provided by the court appointed lawyers or the district legal aid committees was not effective because those legal aid providers were not providing legal aid to victims or defendants outside of court. "It is not only the court that adjudicates cases. There are other quasi-judicial bodies, including the district administration offices that adjudicate cases. The number of cases adjudicated by the district court is almost equal to the number of cases handled by the DAO in some places, but unlike in the courts, there are no agencies that provide free legal aid to the case parties, particularly the defendants,"

Jha said, adding that even when the courts had appointed lawyers to provide free legal aid, that mechanism was not providing quality service to the case parties.

District legal aid committees require the beneficiary to produce recommendations from their local levels certifying that their annual income was less than Rs 40,000.

Programme Manager of Advocacy Forum Bikas Basnet said often the court appointed lawyers were asked to provide legal aid on short notice and as some of them had huge caseload they could not provide quality aid to the case parties.

Jha said some court appointed lawyers were asked to provide free legal aid to the defendants only after perusing the case file for 10 to 15 minutes and in such a situation quality service could not be expected from aid providers.

In the federal set up, local bodies have the power to adjudicate minor cases, but these local bodies lack government appointed legal aid providers.

Jha said the government needed to think of changing the current model of legal aid and should form a body that would be free from government interference and could act independently with adequate resources. He said an independent body formed to provide free legal aid to case parties could involve non-governmental organisations. Jha said there was conflict of interest in the legal aid committee as that was headed by the line minister at the centre.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 12 2021, of The Himalayan Times.