TOPICS: Right to counsel

The majority of the people in Nepal are unaware of their fundamental rights and free legal assistance guaranteed by the Constitution and laws. Thousands of poor and marginalized Nepalese live without the full protection of the law.

The most significant human rights problems were extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, and widespread corruption at all levels of government.

Other human rights problems included disappearances, poor prison conditions that were frequently life threatening, arbitrary arrests and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention.

The judiciary remained overburdened, and court backlogs led to lengthy delays or the denial of justice. Authorities continued to infringe on citizens’ privacy rights. Corruption was widespread.

Domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, sexual harassment, and discrimination against women remained serious problems. Child abuse and forced and early marriage were problems.

Trafficking in persons, including widespread bonded and forced labor of children and adults, and sex trafficking of children and adults were serious problems.

Caste-based discrimination and violence continued, as did discrimination against persons with disabilities and indigenous persons. Forced labor and bonded labor were widespread.

The right to counsel plays a vital role. The right to counsel would be pointless if it didn’t encompass a right to effective counsel. Both national courts and international human rights tribunals have held that states must ensure that legal assistance is both effective and substantial.

The Constitution of Nepal (Article 20) has provided the right to consult and to be defended by a lawyer as a fundamental right. The enacted law relating to Legal Aid seems unrealistic, unscientific and inadequate.

In a democracy, where the rule of law is supreme, it is essential to ensure that even the weakest and the poorest people do not suffer injustice arising out of abrasive action on the part of State or private person.

There is a need to ensure capacity building for legal aid movement.

This requires strengthening the skills of stakeholders of legal aid; and it expects law teachers, lawyers, law students, volunteers etc to act as intermediaries between the rural people and legal service institutions.

The Supreme Court has highlighted the necessity for capacity building and held that in order to provide the “free legal aid” it is necessary to have well-trained lawyers in the country.